A year ago, the Bears’ offense wasn’t impressive during training camp. It was pretty bad, actually. Any of the thousands of Bears fans who trekked down to Bourbonnais probably don’t remember many highlights in August from a group that didn't produce many highlights in September, October, November and December.
(I do remember Taylor Gabriel jumping over a partition and sitting in someone’s chair after catching a touchdown. That was fun!)
It was easy to chalk all those incompletions, interceptions and go-nowhere runs up to the Bears’ offense facing a maniacally good defense. How was Mitch Trubisky supposed to look good when he had to practice against *that* group, which was coming off a historically good 2018?
Trubisky admitted last August he was a little tired of hearing how great the Bears’ defense was.
“We know how good they are, and they give us a tough time in practice,” Trubisky said. “We’re also proud of it, and we know they’re making us better.”
Except that great defense – which wound up being a merely good defense last year – wasn’t making the Bears’ offense better. More accurately, it was exposing the flaws in the Bears’ offense long before the Green Bay Packers did in that unwatchable Thursday night opener.
Looking back, the signs were there in August of 2019 that the Bears were going to have one of the worst offenses in the NFL. The same can’t happen in August of 2020 if the Bears expect to have the kind of improved offense they expect can get them back to the playoffs. These camp practices do matter.
It’s still going to be tough for Trubisky and Nick Foles. Take what quarterbacks coach John DiFilippo said on Wednesday, for example:
“Our two safeties’ high coverage is better than anybody I’ve been around,” DiFilippo said. “… They’re as good as it gets when it comes to disguising coverages.”
That might be an excuse if a safety jumps a route – like Deon Bush did in nearly intercepting Trubisky in Monday’s practice – a couple times over the next few weeks. But if we start seeing too many picks or near-picks, it can’t just be chalked up to a good defense. It’ll set off alarm bells about this offense, too.
The good news for the Bears is facing their own defense in practice should, ideally, help create some separation between Trubisky and Foles. The quarterback competition is structured – as colleague Adam Hoge detailed here – to get both Trubisky and Foles the same rep with the same players against the same defense.
One thing passing game coordinator Dave Ragone said coaches look for, beyond just completions and incompletions, was the quickness and confidence with which each quarterback gets in and out of the huddle against that stout defense.
“We’re obviously going out against a very good defense and trying to match their intensity,” Ragone said. “But at the end of the day for us, it’s always about picking that tempo up so we’re dictating the terms of what we want to do offensively.”
There’ve been some early signs this week that the Bears’ offense is not going to crumble against a defense expecting to be one of the best in the NFL in 2020. We’ll need to keep seeing completions and energy outweigh incompletions and frustration over the next few weeks – if we do, maybe the Bears’ offense is poised for the sort of uptick that’ll make them a playoff contender this fall.
But we don’t? It’s not just because this offense has to face a tough defense every day. That’s not an excuse now, and in retrospect, it wasn’t an excuse a year ago.