Bears

There are no rookie ‘freebies’ for Mitchell Trubisky, but Carson Wentz a good lesson in patience

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USA Today

There are no rookie ‘freebies’ for Mitchell Trubisky, but Carson Wentz a good lesson in patience

The Bears like that Mitchell Trubisky is his own toughest critic, with the quarterback consistently owning his mistakes and shortcomings to his coaches, teammates and the media. After he missed an open Benny Cunningham near the end zone in the first quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Detroit Lions, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains wanted to rip him, but Trubisky was already “really upset” as he arrived on the sidelines about making such a poor throw. 

After the game, Trubisky said “there’s no rookie excuse,” for some of the struggles he’s had, and for his 2-4 record as the Bears’ starting quarterback. But to an extent, that excuse is valid, even if Trubisky has no interest in using it. 

“He shouldn’t give himself a pass,” Loggains said. “He should hold himself to a very high standard, because we do. but we all know the reality of the situation. He (hasn’t played much) since high school. Every day to this point that he’s taken the field, he’s played better. 

“That’s what we keep telling him — keep stacking good games, we’re gonna keep playing better around you, we’ll keep putting you in good situations, and the wins are going to come.”

Not only is Trubisky currently tasked with learning the Bears’ offense, and the wrinkles that are added to it each week, but he also is still getting comfortable with a group of players he either didn’t play much with, or at all, during training camp, when he was the third-string quarterback. And on top of that, he’s having to deal with opposing defensive coordinators knowing that, and continually throwing looks at him that they haven’t put on film before. 

The experiences and knowledge that will help Trubisky succeed aren’t gained in a week or a few games. They’re gained over the course of a season, and right now, Trubisky is halfway through his first year (he’s made six starts, and barring something unforeseen, has six more to go). 

Consider the growth of Carson Wentz, 2016’s No. 2 overall pick, who’s made tremendous strides in Year 2 as a starter in the NFL. Almost every relevant statistic for Wentz has been significantly better in 2017 than it was in 2016:

Year GS Record Comp% Yards Y/A TD TD% INT INT% Rate Sack%
2016 16 7-9 62.4 3,782 6.2 16 2.6 14 2.3 79.3 5.2
2017 10 9-1 59.7 2,430 7.6 25 7.9 5 1.6 103.4 6.7

That growth can be attributed to a number of things, including the Eagles staffing their offense with weapons like Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi. But Wentz deserves most of the credit for the strides he’s made thanks to applying the experience and knowledge he gained as a rookie to what’s now a 9-1 Eagles team in 2017. 

“It’s really expected when you’re drafted high and play right away that in the second year you transition well and really deliver for your team,” Trubisky said. “It’s good to look at those guys and see where they’ve gone from Year 1 to Year 2 and just talk to them about being a leader in the locker room and trying to improve (off) the weaknesses they see.”

So Trubisky is at least cognizant of the bigger picture, and Loggains has tried to remind his rookie quarterback of the incremental gains he’s already made through six starts. Trubisky wants to be better, and will continue to be hard on himself in his efforts to get better. 

But the optimistic outlook is Trubisky has all the talent and intangibles to follow the Year 1 to Year 2 path taken by Wentz. Perhaps a year from now, we’ll look back on this Bears-Eagles matchup and say it actually wasn’t the optimistic outlook, but the realistic outlook. 

“To me, when you’re in the situation we’re in right now where you’re not winning as many games as we want to, you have to celebrate small victories,” Loggains said. “And for us, with Mitchell, it’s, hey, you did what you needed to do in that two-minute drill to take us down and get us in position. So the growth that way, those one-possession games, he’s going to be the reason why we win those games.” 

What do the Bears hope to accomplish in joint practices with Broncos?

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USA Today Sports Images

What do the Bears hope to accomplish in joint practices with Broncos?

DENVER — With Roquan Smith finally in tow, the Bears headed to Denver on Tuesday for a pair of joint practices with the Broncos leading up Saturday’s preseason game at Mile High Stadium. 

The Bears last held joint practices with the New England Patriots in 2016, and for coach Matt Nagy, this week will be his first experience with practicing with and against another team. For Bears players, the opportunity to practice against opposition — instead of their teammates, as has been the case for nearly a month — will inject some life into the dog days of the preseason. 

“It’s a great opportunity to compete against other guys and you get to go out there, and you’ve been beating on your guys all year long and all training camp long,” defensive end Akiem Hicks. “It’s an opportunity to have some other type of competition. And then to finish it up and play them at the end of the week, it just works well.”

Nagy said on Sunday he doesn’t anticipate Wednesday and Thursday’s practices will be live, and Broncos coach Vance Joseph said on Tuesday he spoke with Nagy about working to prevent the kind of fights that have popped up in some other joint practices this month. Washington and the Jets, most notably, had an all-out brawl earlier this week in a joint practice. 

“It’s always good the biggest thing when you do these team scrimmages together, you just want to stay away form the fights,” Nagy said. “As long as guys do that it’s definitely a benefit for both teams.”

The main benefit lies in the boost players should get from competing against another team's players instead of their teammates. That competitive jolt is beneficial, especially for a team that’s been practicing longer than anyone else besides the Baltimore Ravens thanks to participating in the Hall of Fame Game Aug. 2. 

“It’s a different defensive scheme all week,” quarterback Mitch Trubisky said. “We are lucky to go against a great defense in practice, but it will be nice to go against someone else (with) different styles and different coverages.

“It’s going to be competition all week, so we definitely have to bring it. It will be a great week for us to get better and compete and see who wants to win every single snap — not just a game, not just practice periods, but every single snap, every single rep.”

For Smith, Wednesday and Thursday will be a head-first dive into the Bears’ defense. Even if coaches try to ease him into things — which won’t necessarily be the case — it will come against an offense not controlled by Nagy and Mark Helfrich. These two practices will be a good early test for where Smith is in terms of knowledge and football shape after his four-week holdout. 

And for the rest of the Bears, these two practices represent an opportunity to compete against someone different while breaking up the monotony of preseason practices. That’s generally a good thing — even if you’re, say, a tight end who all of a sudden has to try to block Von Miller. 

“I know they have some good edge guys,” tight end Adam Shaheen said with a bit of a grin. “… I think once we saw the schedule, all the tight ends were looking at those guys. it’ll be a good challenge and a good chance to get better.”

How soon will Roquan Smith start? The Bears are ready to figure out the answer

How soon will Roquan Smith start? The Bears are ready to figure out the answer

Roquan Smith signed his rookie contract Tuesday morning and took part in a light walkthrough practice shortly thereafter at Halas Hall, but his coaches are still a ways away from anointing him as a contributor, let alone a starter, for Week 1 of the regular season.

In a more narrow scope, coach Matt Nagy said he wasn’t sure if Smith would be available for Saturday’s preseason game against the Denver Broncos, but did say that the eighth overall pick would be in uniform for Wednesday and Thursday’s joint practices with the Broncos in Colorado. The first step for Nagy, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, inside linebackers coach Glenn Pires and the Bears’ training staff will be to determine what kind of football shape Smith is in, which will become apparent in the coming days. 

Nagy said he might have an idea in a week or 10 days whether or not Smith will be able to contribute in Week 1, but not only does he have to prove that he’s in the right physical and mental shape to do so, he’ll have to prove he’s a better option than Nick Kwiatkoski. Chances are, the eighth overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft will be able to prove he’s better than Kwiatkoski, who is a solid player in his own right. But if Smith can't, that would say more about him than it would about Kwiatkoski (who, again, Bears coaches already trust). 

“I’ve seen him out here with no pads on for an hour and a half,” Nagy said. “I’ll be able to stay in touch with Vic and we’ll ask, we’ll see how that goes and obviously you hope (he’ll contribute Week 1), right? That’s one of the benefits of him being here now but we just have to see. And I don’t think it’s fair to the other guys as well that have been out here battling each and every day, so again, go back to you have to earn it, and come out here and show it.”

Pro Football Talk reported the Bears and Smith’s camp reached a compromise to end the 29-day holdout. You can read the specifics here, but it boils down to this: Smith received ample protection for on-field disciplinary incidents, while the Bears retained their ability to void the guarantee on Smith’s money in an extreme case (think like if Smith becomes the next Vontaze Burfict). 

Smith declined to get into the specifics of his holdout, frequently deferring to “my agent and Mr. Pace” when asked for specifics. Nagy said he didn’t want to dwell on the past, now that the “past” of Smith’s holdout is over. 

But Nagy did say Smith was getting close to the point in his holdout where his availability for Week 1 would’ve been in doubt. So while the timing of Smith’s deal wasn’t ideal — ideal would’ve been mid-July — the opportunity is there for him to prove to his coaches and teammates that he’ll be ready for that curtain-lifting trip to Green Bay. 

“That’s up to the coaches, to decide on, you know, when they feel that I’m ready,” Smith said. “I’m just going to do whatever I can do to prepare myself to get ready. I’ve got confidence in my coaches in there to catch me back up to speed.”

Smith’s level of participation will be closely watched in the coming weeks, starting with these two joint practices against the Broncos on Wednesday and Thursday. Will he already be swiping first-team reps from Kwiatkoski, who had a solid camp while Smith was away? Will all the positive things he put on tape (without pads on) during OTAs and minicamp show back up? Or will he look a little lost early on and need some more time to get up to speed?

These joint practices will be an interesting introduction for Smith into the preseason, though, given the practices he has participated in — OTAs, minicamps and Tuesday’s walkthrough — have consisted of controllable, relatively low-intensity reps. 

“What’s going to happen is in practice that we go against each other there’s a normal consistent pace every day, and now it’s going to naturally pick up when you go against another team,” Nagy said. “But I’m not worried about it with Roquan. I know that he’ll be ready for that, as the rest of our guys will.”

While the Bears will want to give Kwiatkoski a fair chance to keep his job, come Sept. 9, the two best inside linebackers the Bears have will be on the field together against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Danny Trevathan and Smith could be those guys — and, realistically, they should be those guys. The Bears didn’t draft Smith to sit on the bench against Rodgers in a game against a historic rival they’ve only beat three times in their last 19 meetings. 

The process of getting on the field began Tuesday for Smith. It will continue this week — even if he doesn’t play Saturday in Denver — and then next week leading up to Aug. 25’s preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs. When Nagy said he’ll have a good idea in a week or a week and a half if Smith will be ready for Green Bay, that hints at Smith’s role in the Chiefs game being telling for what he’ll do at Lambeau Field 15 days later. 

To figure that out, the Bears are going to put a lot on Smith’s plate. There’s no time for a slow introduction into things. 

And if the team’s evaluation of his skillset, football intelligence and work ethic is correct, he’ll handle that accelerated workload well and, ultimately, earn the starting gig for which he’s been destined since late April. 

“If you take too many baby steps  and you don’t test him enough then you don’t know what his limit is,” Nagy said. “So I think you go ahead  and you throw stuff at him. I think right now we have to make sure physically you don’t overdo it. Mentally he’s fine. We can pull back on that but physically don’t over do it.”