Bears

Teammates see 'greatness' in Mitch Trubisky

Teammates see 'greatness' in Mitch Trubisky

Maybe it’s a pattern. With only one college season comprising 13 starts, Mitch Trubisky convinced the Bears and GM Ryan Pace to hitch their fortunes to him in the form of trading up to ensure getting him in the 2017 draft.

Now, with less than one full NFL season – 12 starts in 2017 – Trubisky has done some more convincing and in the process helped reverse a disturbing, damaging trend in some quarters of the NFL.

Over the past couple offseasons, more than one NFL veteran spurned the Bears in favor of less money elsewhere. And not just on offense or defense: Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery saw little future with the quarterback situation in Chicago and turned down offers to stay, while cornerbacks A.J. Bouye and Stephon Gilmore were among defenders who opted for smaller paydays elsewhere than the Bears were believed to be offering.

This offseason the quarterback situation in Chicago – Trubisky – has had the opposite effect, that of attracting talent instead of repelling it.

“I think if guys came here to win, then yeah, the quarterback should definitely be the first thing that you look at,” said cornerback Prince Amukamara, who chose to re-sign with the Bears after his one-year, prove-it contract of 2017. “Mitch was definitely one of mine. I think the guys that we got here do want to win. When you look at Taylor [Gabriel, former Atlanta wide receiver], look at A-Rob [Allen Robinson], I think those guys are really not putting a lot of pressure on Mitch but just hoping Mitch can probably get them to their second or third contract or help them get their first ring.”

Said Robinson: “That's what I came here for. I came here to make those plays, to make those catches, to make his job easy.” 

Trubisky’s body of NFL work, like his limited starter’s résumé at North Carolina, can reasonably be questioned, if for reasons of quantity alone.

But the Bears were a plus-7 turnover ratio during his 12 starts last year. Trubisky’s interception percentage of 2.1 was better than the rookie pick-rates of Jared Goff, Marcus Mariota, Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz and Jameis Winston, using other recent high draft choices for purposes of comparison.

That sort of thing impresses defenses, including one’s own, in this case a Bears defense ranked among the NFL’s top 10 and which nicknamed Trubisky “Pretty Boy Assassin.”

“I want to win a championship and I think having Mitch here, I think that’s always the start,” Amukamara said. "The quarterback’s always the start and just having Mitch and seeing his improvement and his effort.

“I’m sure some people saw, but even when Mitch was the back-up, Mitch was staying after practice and always working hard and you love seeing that in a quarterback, especially a back-up. I’ve always just saw greatness in him ever since then. I think this year he gets to really show it.”

Will Mitch Trubisky be this season's Jared Goff?

Will Mitch Trubisky be this season's Jared Goff?

The Chicago Bears have been compared to the Los Angeles Rams as a team capable of a significant one-year turnaround after the many moves by GM Ryan Pace to improve the offense and build around second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

According to NFL.com's Adam Schein, the comparisons go one step further. He thinks Trubisky is the best candidate to be 2018's version of Jared Goff:

"I'm infatuated with the Bears' offseason," Schein wrote. "The Bears smartly followed the Rams' blueprint from last offseason: hand the keys to an offensive guru/quarterback whisperer (Matt Nagy) and dedicate the offseason to surrounding your young signal-caller with talent (Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton in free agency, James Daniels and Anthony Miller in the draft). Trubisky will follow in Goff's footsteps and take a major jump in his sophomore campaign."

MULLIN: Teammates see greatness in Trubisky

The comparison of Trubisky to Goff makes a ton of sense. Both were drafted with franchise-quarterback expectations but had average rookie seasons. Both played their first year with an old-school, defensive-minded head coach who was later replaced by a young up-and-coming offensive specialist. And both Goff and Trubisky were given high-powered weapons to begin their sophomore seasons with (the Rams signed Robert Woods and traded for Sammy Watkins before last season). 

Trubisky has to turn these comparisons into production, however. The Rams' remarkable 2017 campaign was just that because rarely does a team have such a dramatic turnaround in only one offseason. The odds aren't in the Bears' favor.

Still, there's a surge of confidence and support in and around Trubisky from the coaching staff and his teammates. He's doing everything he can to prepare for a Goff-like season. We'll find out soon enough if his preparation pays off.

Bears counting on a healthy Leonard Floyd in 2018

Bears counting on a healthy Leonard Floyd in 2018

There's a lot of pressure on the Chicago Bears' pass rush this season.

The NFC North has suddenly become one of the league's most talented quarterback divisions with Kirk Cousins (Vikings) joining Aaron Rodgers (Packers) and Matthew Stafford (Lions). Chicago is the only team in the North without a proven veteran under center.

Leonard Floyd is the most gifted pass-rusher on the roster and the onus is on him to become the superstar sack artist Ryan Pace envisioned when he traded up in the first round in 2016 to select him. Floyd, combined with free-agent addition Aaron Lynch and veteran Sam Acho, have to deliver.

“Leonard Floyd has to stay healthy and have a good year,” Pace told The Athletic's Dan Pompei. “Aaron Lynch has to come on. Vic [Fangio] had background with Aaron Lynch, so that gave us a comfort level in signing him. There is upside there. He’s still a young player. He fits the defense and knows Vic. Sam Acho has been a consistent player for us."

Floyd has just 11 1/2 sacks through two seasons, both of which have been marred by injury. He's played in just 22 of a possible 32 games as a pro.

Pace didn't address the team's pass rush until the sixth round of April's draft when he nabbed Utah's Kylie Fitts. It seemed odd at the time that he waited so long to address one of the team's most glaring needs and there haven't been any veteran signings to sure up the group since the draft concluded. The Bears are one injury away from a serious problem at outside linebacker and are relying on a bunch of guys who haven't proven capable of playing a full season in their careers.

"We felt fortunate to get Kylie Fitts in the sixth round, and he has to stay healthy," Pace said. "You are never going to come out of the offseason and say we addressed everything, we’re perfect.”

The Bears invested most of their offseason resources into surrounding Trubisky with playmakers who can help him compete with his NFC North counterparts. The offense will be better.

But if Floyd doesn't have a breakthrough season, more pressure will be on Trubisky to score points -- and a lot of them -- to keep games close in the division. And that's not the kind of pressure the Bears are hoping Floyd creates in 2018.