Bears

Why Mitch Trubisky wasn't willing to write off the Bears' sloppiness in Cincinnati

Why Mitch Trubisky wasn't willing to write off the Bears' sloppiness in Cincinnati

CINCINNATI — The results in his preseason debut weren’t much different for Mitch Trubisky than what was customary in 2017: Two ineffective runs, then a short completion or an incompletion on third down, then a punt. 

Trubisky quarterbacked the Bears’ first two drives in their 30-27 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals Thursday evening at Paul Brown Stadium, completing two of four passes for four yards and a passer rating of 56.2. But while the results were shades of his dour rookie year, they weren’t what Trubisky felt like he and the offense had been building toward over the last few days of practice. 

And that’s one reason why Trubisky wasn’t willing to write off the sloppiness of the first-team offense as this group shaking off some rust. 

“Our standards are higher that we expect to be better,” Trubisky said. “No excuse for first preseason game. We have a bunch of experienced guys from last year, so there shouldn’t be any jitters. Maybe guys were excited, but it’s very simple — come out here, do your job, do exactly what we were doing in practice. We practiced our butts off this week. We just came out here and were sloppy.”

Trubisky added that he thought it was “surprising” the offense was so sloppy. A few examples of what he was talking about: He and Kevin White couldn’t connect on a deep shot on the first play of the game, White dropped a pass, Eric Kush was beaten back by Geno Atkins for a sack and Cody Whitehair was whistled for holding. Those accounted for four of the 10 snaps Trubisky took (only eight were official — there was a roughing the passer penalty that bailed out White’s drop, and then Whitehair’s penalty). 

“You definitely want to see a better start out of this offense," Trubisky said. "That was definitely not the way we’d been practicing, and that’s not what this offense is going to be this year."

It was somewhat telling that Trubisky was frustrated with how things went on Thursday. A few thoughts on it: First, he doesn’t have the gravitas of an experienced veteran to say “oh, well, it’s the first preseason game.” Second: Well, it was sloppy, and that kind of play isn’t up to the standard Trubisky set for himself and the Bears’ offense this year. 

“It’s going to be changed, because that’s not who we are or who we want to be,” Trubisky said. 

From a bigger-picture standpoint, though, this still was only Trubisky’s first preseason game of 2018. The Bears haven’t begun gameplanning for opponents yet as Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich have focused on installing plays on a daily basis. Nagy said he thought Trubisky’s operation of the offense was smooth, and came away with neither a negative nor positive grade on his starting quarterback. 

“This is so early right now, it really is,” Nagy said. “… It will be fun as we go here to get them some more snaps, let them get into a rhythm and, really, for all the guys to get into a rhythm offensively. He’s going to have eight snaps to take a look at and see what was right and what was wrong, but it’s hard to judge off of eight plays.”

It’s worth noting, too, that the following players did not participate in Thursday’s game: Jordan Howard, Benny Cunningham, Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Dion Sims. Tarik Cohen nominally started, but didn’t touch the ball. So while Trubisky was working with his starting “U” tight end (Trey Burton), a presumptive starting wideout (Anthony Miller) and his entire starting offensive line (for the first series, until Kyle Long came out for the second one), there were plenty of pieces missing that are expected to be ready for Week 1. 

From an even bigger picture view, Thursday’s game being sloppy shouldn’t be too surprising, given the installation process of learning had generated some sloppy practices in Bourbonnais to this point even if they hadn't come in the last few days. There’s still a month until the Bears’ season-opening trip to Green Bay, and nobody around these parts is close to worrying about how Trubisky and his teammates are growing into the offense. 

But to Trubisky’s credit, he was frustrated. He was disappointed. And that’s probably how the Bears want the face of the franchise to feel after not performing to the level he believes he can reach — even if it was “only” a preseason game. 

“You get limited to so many plays, so you go out there and try to do the best you can with it,” Trubisky said. “It’s gotta be better. It will be better.”

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.”