Bears

Just how well did Mitch Trubisky play against New England?

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USA TODAY

Just how well did Mitch Trubisky play against New England?

Nothing Mitch Trubisky did in the Bears’ 38-31 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday shook the confidence of his coaches or teammates in the long-term outlook for their franchise quarterback. If anything, most of what he did continued to show those guys his development is trending in the right direction.

“Mitch is a good-ass quarterback,” right tackle Bobby Massie said. “He’s got ability to do a lot of things. He’s young, but he’s going to be a special player. You see glimpses of that last year, and you see more of it this year. In years to come he’s going to be a hell of a player.”

Trubisky’s final stat line is deceiving in some respects, though. He completed 26 of 50 passes, good for a completion percentage of 52 percent, for 333 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions and a passer rating of 69.8. He’s now thrown for over 300 yards in three consecutive games, joining Josh McCown and Brian Hoyer as the only quarterbacks to do that in franchise history.

While taking away the last-ditch drive and completion to White — that got the Bears about a yard away from tying or winning the game — shouldn’t be completely ignored in the overall evaluation of Trubisky’s game, he completed 22 of 45 passes for 254 yards before New England’s defense sat as far back as they could with 24 seconds left.

Trubisky’s accuracy was uneven during the game, which Nagy chalked up to something that happens with a young quarterback having to throw so frequently.  

“When you throw the ball 50 times, there's going to be some that are inaccurate,” Nagy said. “This is this kid's second year in the NFL, and this is his first year in our offense. So not everything is going to be dead on. He had a good game today.”

It wasn’t good enough for the Bears to win, though, which is what ultimately counts. Yes, two special teams touchdowns were backbreaking, and the defense struggled with the Patriots’ ability to get the ball out quick and efficiently do the simple things right.

But Trubisky threw two interceptions, one when he tried to make a play on third and long and the ball appeared to bounce out of the arms of Josh Bellamy and into the waiting hands of Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson.

The other, though, came when Anthony Miller had a step on safety Jonathan Jones. Instead of leading Miller into the end zone, Trubisky under threw the ball a touch, turning what could’ve been a touchdown throw into a 50-50 ball.

Jones made a spectacular play to intercept the pass, and New England engineered a 96-yard scoring drive after it that put the Bears down 14 in the fourth quarter.

“I thought I could have put it out there a little further,” Trubisky said. “I loved Anthony's route he ran, and I threw it a little later than I wanted to because I had to check protection to make sure I gave a slide call to make sure we could pick up the blitz that they brought through, and I just bounced back to the other side, so it was a little later than I wanted to be.

"But I thought he ran a great route, loved how he took it high, and I just got pushed out there a little further, but it was a 50/50 ball, and he had a chance to get it, and the other guy had a chance to get it, and the other dude made a great play.”

The Patriots’ defense did well to take away Taylor Gabriel — who had been Trubisky’s favorite target over the last few weeks — by shading a cornerback to the receiver’s inside shoulder and playing a safety over the top consistently. Allen Robinson was hampered by a groin issue and didn’t make an impact (five targets, one catch, four yards).

What the Bears liked from Trubisky, though, was how he switched to relying on Trey Burton (11 targets, nine catches, 129 yards, one touchdown) and stuck with Tarik Cohen (12 targets, eight catches, 69 yards, one touchdown).

Trubisky was outstanding running the ball, scrambling over 70 yards for an eight-yard touchdown and deftly extending a run into a 39-yard gain in the third quarter. His team-best 81 rushing yards on six attempts were an effective counter-punch to what Belichick threw at him.

But Trubisky threw two passes in the end zone that could’ve — and probably should’ve — been picked off. Those two throws were concerning given Trubisky threw a momentum-shifting interception in the end zone last week in Miami.

“He forced one in the end zone that everyone is holding your breath when he throws it, and that can happen sometimes with a young quarterback,” Nagy said. “But that was one of the ones that he knew right away 'I shouldn't have done that.'”

The highs and lows are all part of the long-term development of a young quarterback paired with a first-time coach. That’s a critically-important backdrop with which to evaluate Trubisky, Nagy and the Bears’ offense.

But the Bears still have plenty to prove in 2018, with this at the top of the list: Can this team be a playoff contender with a quarterback trending in the right direction, but still going through the growing pains of inexperience?

“It’s early in the year, still a lot of games left, a lot of ball to be played and we’re a good-ass team,” Massie said. “There’s no need to be like oh, woe is me. We’re still gonna make a run at this thing. We gotta fix what needs to be fixed and we’ll be good.”

Bears roster lacks veteran cut candidate

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USA Today

Bears roster lacks veteran cut candidate

The Bears battle for the 53-man roster doesn’t have many contentious positions entering training camp.

Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy brought back largely the same roster from their breakout 2018 season, finding replacements for the few players gone in free agency.

Outside of kicker, the entire starting lineup is pretty much set for Week 1, and the main competitions to stick with the team are at the bottom of the depth chart.

It leaves the roster with no notable veterans that stand out as candidates to be cut. ESPN’s Jeff Dickerson was asked to name one for an article, and he couldn’t come up with any.

He mentioned Taquan Mizzell, who made the move from running back to wide receiver this offseason, but as Dickerson pointed out “Mizzell is hardly a well-known commodity around the league.”

Former third-round pick Jonathan Bullard hasn’t lived up to his draft status, but the Bears have seemed comfortable keeping him around in a backup role.

The Bears roster has very little fat to trim. The only other player who could potentially qualify is cornerback Sherrick McManis, since the team has so many young players at his position, but he’s been working at safety to increase his value, and he’s one of the team’s best special teams contributors.

The trim down from the 90-man roster shouldn’t have too many significant surprises, which is why so much of the attention this offseason continues to go to the kicker position.

Alex Bars is ready to take his shot with Harry Hiestand and the Bears

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USA Today

Alex Bars is ready to take his shot with Harry Hiestand and the Bears

Alex Bars was cleared to practice last week, allowing him his first chance to put on a helmet since tearing his ACL and MCL Sept. 29 while playing for Notre Dame. The undrafted guard was able to participate in veteran minicamp, allowing him to shake off some rust before his real push for a roster spot begins in training camp next month. 

Many speculated Bars would’ve been as high as a mid-round draft pick if not for that devastating knee injury. It didn’t take the 6-foot-6, 312 pound Bars long, though, to decide where he wanted to go after not being picked in April’s draft. Call it the Harry Hiestand effect. 

Bars played under Hiestand’s tutelage at Notre Dame from 2014-2017, and said he always wanted to wind up with the Bears to work with his former coach — just as 2018 top-10 picks Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey hoped to as well. 

“I remember talking about that, because they both wanted to play for him,” Bars said. “They understand where he can take you and how phenomenal a coach he is, so they both wanted that. And I’m just the same way.”

While Nelson transformed the Indianapolis Colts’ playoff-bound offensive line and McGlinchey showed plenty of promise with the San Francisco 49ers, the reunion of Bars and Hiestand carries some intriguing possibilities for the Bears. Bars has always had upside — he was a four-star recruit out of Nashville in 2014 — and getting to work with Hiestand may be the best way to tap into that potential. 

“He knows me very well, I understand his technique very well,” Bars said. “So having that connection, that player-coach connection all four years through college is huge.”

Hiestand called Bars after his injury last fall and offered some words of encouragement, which only furthered Bars' wish to play for his former college coach in the NFL. 

"That meant everything," Bars said. "He cares so much off the field as well as on the field. That’s who he is."  

Bars wasn’t able to participate in OTAs or rookie minicamp, but Hiestand doesn’t see that as putting him in a tough spot to make the Bears' 53-man roster. And there will very much be an opportunity for Bars to make a push during training camp, given 10-year veteran Ted Larsen only has $90,000 in guaranteed money on his one-year contract. 

It may not be the more eye-catching roster battle during training camp, but the Bears hope they can find interior offensive line depth through competition in Bourbonnais. And Bars, now cleared to practice, will get his shot. 

“He’ll have the chance because he’s smart, he understands the technique, he knows what to do,” Hiestand said during OTAs, when Bars hadn’t practiced yet. “He’s learning the offense even though he’s not doing it. But when we put the pads on that’s when you make or don’t make the team.” 

It’s often unfair — yet far too easy — to place high expectations on undrafted free agents. For every Cameron Meredith or Bryce Callahan who gets unearthed, there are dozens of anonymous players who struggle to stick on an NFL practice squad. 

But Bars is among the more important undrafted free agents on the Bears given his connection with Hiestand and the position he plays. While Kyle Long is healthy, he hasn’t played a full season since 2015, underscoring the Bears’ need for depth on the interior of their offensive line in the immediate future. 

And the Bears would save a little over $8 million against their 2020 cap if they were to make the difficult decision to cut Long in a year. If Bars develops into the kind of player plenty in the NFL thought he could be before his knee injury, that would make releasing Long a little easier to swallow at Halas Hall. 

For now, though, Bars is just hoping to make the Bears. Anything else is a long ways away.

“I’m excited to be here, thrilled for this opportunity and it’s all about productivity,” Bars said. “Just need to be productive and prove you belong on this team.”

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