Bears

Open competition might be what Mitch Trubisky needs to salvage Bears' career

Open competition might be what Mitch Trubisky needs to salvage Bears' career

I used this space on Friday to explain why I see Nick Foles as the clear favorite to be the Bears’ starting quarterback in Week 1 of the 2020 season. Based on the information we have, it’s easy to see why Foles should beat out Mitch Trubisky in the Bears’ “open competition.” 

And I very much believe that'll happen. But I do want to acknowledge something here, an unknown of sorts: We don’t know how Trubisky will handle a legitimate competition. 

“The competitor that Mitch is, the way that he was with us was really neat to see because he embraced it,” Matt Nagy said. “It wasn’t about excuses, it wasn’t about anything other than, ‘OK, I understand that, I’m gonna give you everything that I’ve got, we’re gonna compete, and you’re gonna get that best that I’ve got.’”

Nagy and Ryan Pace both talked up Trubisky’s competitive nature when discussing the Foles trade over about 40 minutes on Friday. It’s all they can talk up at this point — anything else about his game or past results would’ve been hot air. Maybe the competitiveness thing is hot air, too. 

But this brings up a question that’s lingered as Trubisky’s career has drifted into disappointing territory, so follow my tangent: Why wasn’t he North Carolina’s starting quarterback sooner in college?

Trubisky sat behind Marquise Williams for two and a half seasons before taking over as the Tar Heels' QB1 in 2016. Williams spent one training camp with the Green Bay Packers before being cut and spent the next few years as a backup in the CFL, AAC and XFL.

Trubisky — the second overall pick in 2017's draft — couldn’t beat that guy out? Huh?

The thing is, though, there wasn’t really a competition in Chapel Hill for the Tar Heels’ starting gig. Williams QB’d five consecutive wins to get North Carolina to a bowl game in 2013, then was pretty good in six-win 2014. North Carolina went 11-1 in 2015, Trubisky’s third year on campus, with Williams as their guy. 

Former UNC quarterbacks coach Keith Heckendorf explained to me after the 2017 draft why there wasn’t truly a competition for Trubisky to win. 

“That success we had as a team with Marquise made it hard for us to pull him out of the lineup,” Heckendorf said. “And I think if (Williams’ success in 2013) hadn’t happened, there may be a completely different conversation. It was not for a lack of talent, it was not because (Trubisky) wasn’t capable, but it’s hard to take a guy who had the success — not only as the team winning but individually — as Marquise had and put him on the bench for an unproven commodity.”

Of course, if Trubisky were lighting things up in practice and limited game reps, he would’ve forced UNC’s hand. He didn’t.

But the point is Trubisky’s failure to win a starting gig in college sooner wasn’t necessarily the product of him losing an open competition. He pushed Mike Glennon as a rookie in 2017, but he didn’t show up to training camp in a true “battle” (especially as he QB’d the third-team offense so much). He took over for Glennon because, first and foremost, Glennon was a disaster.

So we don’t really know how he’ll handle a competition the Bears are framing as fair and even.

Could Trubisky all of a sudden grow with the challenge to his job? Could the mere presence of Foles get him to start hitting more deep balls, or make the right reads at the line, or help him avoid those head-scratching interceptions?

Probably not. Football types love to say competition brings out the best in everyone, but it’s hard to see it erasing three years of inconsistent tape.

But we don’t know for sure. For what it's worth, this worked for Kyle Fuller three years ago, when the Bears signed Marcus Cooper and Prince Amukamara and he wound up winning his old job back, and then keeping it.

Trubisky, too, still has more upside than Foles. The Bears would much rather start the version of Trubisky Pace hoped he was getting in 2017 rather than a 31-year-old with 13 starts over the last four years.

Still, Foles is most likely going to be the Bears’ starter when the 2020 season begins (hopefully on time). But the Bears should at least take a look at Trubisky in a true competition.

It may not need to be a long look. But it should be a look.

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Danny Trevathan already knows just how dominant the 2020 Bears defense can be

Danny Trevathan already knows just how dominant the 2020 Bears defense can be

While most of yesterday's Bears media availability focused on more pressing issues, Akiem Hicks and Danny Trevathan both breifly talked about the state of the Bears' defense heading into 2020. 

2018's historically good side came down to earth a bit last year, but the free agent additions of Robert Quinn and Tashaun Gipson, along with rookies Jaylon Johnson,  Kindle Vildor, and Trevis Gipson have some believing there's enough talent on the unit to compete with 2018's production. Healthy seasons from leaders Akiem Hicks and Danny Trevathan will do wonders, too. 

"We’re going to be monsters," Trevathan said. "There’s no doubt in my mind. I watched Quinn from afar. I know he’s been going for a while. He knows what he’s doing. He’s a wrecking machine. Now you’ve got to watch this side here, this side over here. You’ve got to watch the middle. You’ve got to watch the back end. Front seven. Dangerous."

And though they haven't been able to practice together yet, Trevathan mentioned that he's been encouraged by the steps the defense has taken to ensure that the transition back to the practice field goes as seamlessly as possible.

"I feel like right now is the time where we create that communication between one another," he added. "We’re kind of the first people in the history of football to have to deal with a situation like this. We’ve got to hold it down on our part. That’s why I feel like keeping in contact with one another is going to be a deciding factor between which team comes out of this victorious and on top. And I feel like we have the people on this team and this defense to be one of the ones who stand out and ones who come out of this positively. I feel like all we have to do is take one day at a time. Push one another. Call one another out. Have each other’s back. And let’s roll out."

How Bears are thinking about playing football again amid coronavirus pandemic

How Bears are thinking about playing football again amid coronavirus pandemic

Football players are conditioned to block out things on the “outside noise.” The focus for the Bears, though, has recently been on racial injustice and police brutality — and those topics will continue to be part of the team’s daily discussions. There’s no blocking those out anymore or taking a "stick to sports" mindset. 

Linebacker Danny Trevathan isn’t concerned about those issues impacting his, and his teammates’, ability to play football, though. But something else might. 

“I'm more worried about Corona than I'm worried about that in football,” Trevathan said. “I’m not worried about, I mean it still exists in the world so let's not forget about corona, bro. You know, I might go to camp and somebody might have that and I might not be able to play no more.”

MORE: Inside the Bears' emotional team meeting on Monday

Typically, the Bears would right now be in the midst of OTA practices at Halas Hall. The offseason program would conclude with a minicamp in mid-June, providing coaches with a total of 13 non-padded practices to install the playbook and build a foundation ahead of training camp. 

None of those practices will take place amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Coaches will be allowed to return to team facilities on Friday but no more than 100 employees can be in a building at one time. And no players will be allowed, meaning none of the remaining OTA practices or this month’s veteran minicamp will be conducted in person. 

So the first time the Bears as a team physically convene again will almost certainly be for the start of training camp. But coronavirus will still be around when that happens. 

“It is scary,” defensive tackle Akiem Hicks said. “It's scary to think that most of my job is physical contact with other players. And so boy, I don't know. I don't know. I want to be safe and I'm sure they're going to do their best to make sure we're in the best possible situation in order to be able to play this game and do it, right? But it's scary. That's how I feel.”

How the NFL handles concerns from players like Hicks will be critical. Players will inevitably test positive for coronavirus, but widespread outbreaks in team facilities will need to be prevented. 

"We fully well expect that we will have positive cases that arise because we think that this disease will remain endemic in society and so it shouldn't be a surprise that new positive cases arise," Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical doctor, said last month. "Our challenge is to identify them as quickly as possible and to prevent spread to any other participants. We're working very diligently on that and we'll have some detailed plans to share about that at a later time."

MORE: Read Akiem Hicks' full comments on social injustice and Colin Kaepernick

The NFL and the NFLPA have at least a month and a half to plan for returning to play in the midst of a pandemic. There is a certain level of trust, though, that wide receiver Allen Robinson has in the sport’s decision-makers to create as low-risk an environment as possible this season. 

Robinson, too, has recently been working out with and catching passes from Mitch Trubisky recently (which coach Matt Nagy said is "freaking awesome"). 

“Honestly, me personally, I'm not too concerned,” Robinson said. “I think that if we're going to be put back in the facility I think that measures are going to be taken. I think that a plan will be had and I think that enough research and stuff will have been done to put everybody in the best kind of situation.”

Let’s hope Robinson is right. Because while the NBA, NHL, MLS and the NWSL have moved toward returning to play — and Major League Baseball moves toward a ruinous destruction of the sport — none of those leagues have actually staged games yet. The NFL has the ability (and luxury) to see what problems may arise with those sports’ return before encountering those issues as a league. 

But as Trevathan said, we can’t forget about corona (bro). It’s — unfortunately — another massive issue facing our country, one that’s also bigger than football. We’ll eagerly await the NFL’s plan to keep its players, coaches and staff safe in 2020. 

Until then, though, maybe we’ll try to figure out what was actually in Hicks’ Quarantini cocktail. 

“There’s been a lot of variations,” Hicks laughed. “What I will say is this: after I found out that, I read an article — and just like everybody else, you read an article on twitter and every other form of media — they said that drinking alcohol could increase your chances of getting COVID. That kinda went down the drain at that point. 

“But I will say this: Tequila was involved.”

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