Plenty of cliches have recently been bandied about Halas Hall relating to the growth of the Bears’ offense as it collectively enters its second year operating Matt Nagy’s system. “Light years ahead,” “night and day,” etc.
Trying to formulate sweeping, far-reaching conclusions out of OTAs — non-padded practices which are strictly regulated under the league’s collective bargaining agreement — is rarely a good idea. The Bears’ offense won’t go from being average-ish in 2018 to great in 2019 based on a 10 practices in May and June that aren’t considered "real football," as some coaches call it.
But as it relates to Mitch Trubisky, there is some value in dissecting in how he’s “light years ahead” in his knowledge of the offense, and how his operation of it is like “night and day,” as various coaches put it this week.
Think less, smile more
Nagy made a comment back in March, during the NFL’s annual meeting in Arizona, that he didn’t believe Trubisky’s accuracy issues in 2018 were due to anything physical.
“It was all just him learning where to go with the ball,” Nagy said. “… When you know what’s going on and things become slower, you can make that more accurate throw. None of it was physical. It was all just mentally learning the offense.”
So take that comment and think about it this way: If Trubisky’s knowledge is “light years ahead” of where it was last year, shouldn’t that lead to an improvement in his accuracy?
The Bears are already seeing that happen during OTAs, even if it’s just in helmets and shorts.
“We’re able to take the next step on offense because we know what we’re doing on offense,” Trubisky said. “Now we can adjust based off what the defense is giving us.”
Because Trubisky knows the offense better, he doesn’t have to think as much about his own responsibilities in it. And that means he’s able to better process what’s in front of him, allowing him to know exactly where to go with the ball based on the play call as well as defensive coverages, alignments, personnel, etc.
“The biggest thing I can say about where he’s at is comfort,” quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone said. “It doesn’t mean plays are perfect. It means that the conversations that we’re currently having with him are not elementary and what was he supposed to do, and what was your reaction. It’s way above that. It’s hey, I felt the nickel do this, so I’m gonna do that.”
The thought here of thinking less extends beyond Trubisky within the offense, too. For guys like Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Tarik Cohen, etc., they’re able to know what adjustments they need to make without having to think about where they’re lined up or who they’re lined up against. Given Nagy said in the past some of Trubisky’s incompletions last year were due to bad routes, it’s an encouraging development.
“When it comes to guys being where they need to be when they need to be there, that’s been very clean for us,” Robinson said. “To see that right now, I think it’s big. This time last year, we were the opposite.”
The student becomes the teacher
A year ago at this time, the Bears leaned on Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray to be additional voices for Trubisky as they installed Nagy’s offense. The experience of those two quarterbacks in iterations of Nagy’s offense was valuable, especially as the rest of the team — running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive linemen — were trying to figure out their responsibilities, too.
“When you’re going through that the first time you kind of tend to go internal,” offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said. “You try to survive with what’s your world, not ‘hey dude, I need you right here to do this.’”
With a full year of experience, though, Trubisky is far better equipped to teach other players, like rookie David Montgomery or free agent signee Cordarrelle Patterson, details of the offense and what he wants out of a certain play. That allows him to be more demanding of his teammates instead of simply trying to, as Helfrich put it, survive his own responsibilities.
“I think it’s a great thing that I know the offense as well as I do now that I’m able to help the new guys, the younger guys and even the guys that are coming back in this offense — how exactly we want it, how exactly coach Nagy wants it,” Trubisky said. “Ultimately I’m the guy out there, so we want to play to work how I see and how coach Nagy sees it.”
Having a quarterback communicate how he wants things — and having that be how the coach wants things — will do nothing but benefit the Bears’ offense.
“I don’t want to oversell after a few days of OTAs, but where he is in terms of his mental capacity to understand what the other side is doing is as good as it’s been, or ever been, for him at this point,” Ragone said. “(It) doesn’t mean we still don’t make mistakes. (It) doesn’t mean that things always go perfect. But in terms of why he’s doing what he’s doing and the answers he’s giving back when he’s asked a question, we are — we should be, we’re second year in, he’s talking at a higher level than he has at any point last year and hopefully that shows in all his play.”