BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — For anyone who hasn’t been able to make it down to Olivet Nazarene University over the last few weeks, Thursday night will be their first opportunity to see Mitch Trubisky operate Matt Nagy’s offense — even if his time on the field will be brief.
Trubisky will play against the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday night, most likely only quarterbacking one or two drives. But while his snap count will be low, there are still some important things he and his coaches want him to accomplish.
“I think positive plays,” coach Matt Nagy said. “We want to go out there and command in the huddle, which he has. He does it. Let's see it now in a game. And then just good and bad plays that occur — if it's a good play, don't get too high. Make a good play, follow it up, and then if it's a bad play, if there's a mistake or there's something wrong, don't worry about it, next play mentality. And that's what we've been trying to develop here this whole camp.”
Players often pay lip service to that “next play mentality,” but Trubisky comes across as someone who actually can practice what he preaches in that regard. His coaches like that about him; so do his teammates, which only elevates him as a leader in their eyes.
Trubisky has worked to become a leader for months, and there’s no question that the Bears are his team. But that work isn’t finished, and displaying those leadership qualities — the command of the offense, the ability to communicate with his teammates, and most importantly, his own skill and production — in a game, even if it’s only for a few plays, will only add to those efforts.
“I want him to do what he's been doing, which is come out of the huddle, play with conviction, play with command, play with confidence,” quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone said. “That's something we've stressed to him. You don't look over your shoulder, you go out there and you play ball. And he's got a great confidence about him. It's not arrogance, it's confidence, and his teammates love that about him. We just want him to be him. I'm sure coach Nagy has said that to you guys, be you, and that's what we want him to do. Go out there, play the way you play, lead it, be great with your eyes and fundamentals, and play ball. That's what you're here for and he's done a great job of that.”
How much of the offense will you see?
Nagy provided a refreshing answer when asked Tuesday how he’ll balance wanting players to operate his offense against the Bengals with not wanting to put too much on tape for regular season opponents to scout.
“It's not that hard because there's 1,000 plays they we have,” Nagy said. “I’m talking offensively because there are so many plays you can still run good concepts and things you're going to do and then there's going to be things that you do as you go conceptually, every team's pretty much the same. Nobody's going to show their complete hand but at the same time you can't not practice it.
“So what better way than in a preseason game to show some things. So, there is a balance, the guys know that but I think that the less stuff you give them then you really get to evaluate them better because you know that they know what they're doing and they can play faster.”
Nagy didn’t lean on “competitive advantage” paranoia or worries about what the Green Bay Packers might figure out. This is a coach who’s confident in his offense, and would prefer his offense put some stuff on tape if it means they get to work on operating it against another team.
Thinking back to last year, John Fox and Dowell Loggains effectively hid Tarik Cohen’s full skillset from the public eye, then were able to surprise the Atlanta Falcons in Week 1 by unleashing some of the things reporters had seen in practice but the public (and other teams) hadn’t. Those efforts were successful, and the Bears nearly beat the defending NFC champions because of them — but they also underscored this: The Bears’ offense wasn’t good enough, or imaginative enough, to have success without some sort of element of surprise.
That’s not the case with Nagy’s offense and the players that will operate it in 2018. Nagy won’t show his hand on everything Thursday, of course, but this group is designed to be good enough to not have to be paranoid about putting something on tape that they’ll use Sept. 9 in Green Bay.
Who’s in, who’s out?
Jordan Howard (knee) and Taylor Gabriel (foot) both missed Tuesday’s walkthrough-type practice. Howard banged his knee, Nagy said, and while his absence from practice on Tuesday sounded more precautionary the Bears’ coach wasn’t sure if Howard would play on Thursday. Gabriel was on the sidelines for the first time since Saturday, the last day he practiced, and Nagy said it could go “either way” if he plays on Thursday.
James Daniels continued to get work at center on Tuesday and Nagy said he’s hopeful the second-round pick will play Thursday (he missed last week’s Hall of Fame Game with a shoulder injury).
For Daniels, and everyone else battling for a job, Thursday’s game is important. But think of preseason games like tests, with the practices between them as quizzes. All that adds up to a final grade that’ll determine who makes the roster and who starts Week 1 — which is still over a month away.
“I think it slowly changes,” Nagy said of he and his coaches’ evaluations of players. “I don't think it's aggressive over time just because, especially in our case, we've got five preseason games. So you'll see there's some spots within the team that you'll see maybe changes more than others. But over time you start kind of building this picture of each guy individually and where they're at.
“… You get to week three, week four and week five, that's a lot of volume that you have right there to evaluate guys. So we're not there yet, if somebody comes out and has a poor game it doesn't mean they're getting cut. If they come out and have a great game it doesn't mean they made the team.”