Bears

Will 'special' throws help Mitch Trubisky keep his job with the Bears in 2020?

Will 'special' throws help Mitch Trubisky keep his job with the Bears in 2020?

Every so often, Mitch Trubisky has conjured up the sort of eye-catching “special” throws expected from a former second overall pick. A few popped up in the Bears’ win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday, specifically his 18-yard touchdown strike to Ben Braunecker and a 33-yard deep ball to Allen Robinson with pressure in his face. 

Those two throws represent two of the more encouraging moments for Trubisky during his third year in the NFL. Quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone called Trubisky’s touchdown to Braunecker “great,” and was impressed by the throw to Robinson given he got hit after releasing it. 

“He lets that thing go with the anticipation, which we’re always preaching to him,” Ragone said. “To me, even though that play wasn’t a touchdown, that throw in general is kind of what obviously we’re hoping more and more of those type plays as the rest of the regular season moves on.”

The question the Bears have to ask themselves is this: Is Trubisky’s ability to make outstanding throws enough to out-weigh the glaring issues encompassing their quarterback and an offense averaging just 18 points per game?

Plenty of teams and coaches have been enamored by “special” abilities in quarterbacks (Jay Cutler, for these purposes, is a prime example). Plenty of coaches, too, have been drawn by the allure of being the guy to finally harness talent that shows up occasionally on highlight reels. 

It’s how the Bears can, at the least, talk themselves into keeping Trubisky as their starting quarterback for the rest of 2019. And it’s how general manager Ryan Pace, speaking on WBBM-780 (the Bears’ flagship radio station) prior to Sunday’s game against the Lions, can make this argument as to why he’s confident in Trubisky: 

“I think this is all part of playing quarterback in the NFL.” Pace said. “Every quarterback goes through this and it’s just part of the experience. … There’s growth that happens on the field. There’s growth that happens off the field. Other young quarterbacks around the league are going through it, the same thing, and honestly we’re proud of the way that Mitch is handling it.”

“You see it within games right now. You saw it in Philly, it was really a tale of two halves. So he’s fighting his way out of it within games. 

“We all know that Mitch can play better. Mitch knows that. He’s just in the process of navigating through this along with the rest of the offense. He has confidence in himself. His teammates have confidence in him. And we’ve just got to fight through this.”
 
Pace does not speak to the media during the regular season, and is not going to send a message to his quarterback when coach Matt Nagy is sticking behind Trubisky (to put it another way: If he had already determined Trubisky weren’t his 2020 quarterback, he wouldn’t say it publicly). 

Between lauding those special throws and — accurately — pointing out not everything in 2019’s offense is Trubisky’s fault, though, there is some groundwork laid for the Bears to build an argument for not changing starting quarterbacks in 2020. 

But the Bears need to be careful when it comes to thinking they can harness Trubisky’s “special” ability. Quarterbacks, generally, are who they are after making 32 starts — and Trubisky on Sunday will start his 35th game in the NFL. The late-emerging successes of Alex Smith (who was with Matt Nagy in Kansas City) and Drew Brees (who was with Pace in New Orleans) are the exceptions to the rule, not the rule. 

Still, the more “special” throws, the better for the Bears’ (slim) chances of making 2019 a relevant season in their 100-year history. But the Bears in 2020 will need to strike a proper balance between evaluating the occasional high-degree-of-difficulty completion and the routine decisions made by Trubisky. 

“Just continue to try to do my job and I think those really good throws will come,” Trubisky said. “And just, when the normal play is there just continue to make that and put my team in a good position to stay on the field, convert third downs and just try and score points, ultimately.”

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2020 NFL Draft: Bears land CB, OT in 7-round mock draft

2020 NFL Draft: Bears land CB, OT in 7-round mock draft

The 2019 NFL season is in its final quarter, and with the Bears essentially needing to win out while also getting some help around the league to make the playoffs, it's important to keep track of the trending NFL Draft narrative building around this team.

The funny thing, however, is that that narrative continues to change.

Just a few weeks ago, the Bears were considered a team that would potentially dip into the pool of quarterback prospects in the early second round, but with the emergence of Mitch Trubisky (he's thrown for 582 yards and six touchdowns in the last two games alone), it appears less likely that GM Ryan Pace will use one of his few draft assets on one.

Tight end was also considered a target for the Bears in the second round, and that could remain the case as the season marches on. But Jesper Horsted is beginning to look like a legitimate sleeper to emerge as part of the answer at such a critical position in coach Matt Nagy's offense.

So where does that leave this team's hierarchy of draft needs as the offseason inches closer? 

According to CBS Sports' new seven-round mock draft, the first two positions the Bears will address with their two second-round picks are cornerback and offensive tackle. In this mock, Chicago grabs TCU corner Jeff Gladney (No. 49 overall) and Iowa offensive tackle Alaris Jackson (No. 50 overall).

Gladney will participate in this year's Senior Bowl at the end of January after a standout career with the Horned Frogs. He was rated the No. 1 cornerback in the Big 12 by Pro Football Focus in 2018 and has been solid once again this season, although he's managed just one interception on the year. 

At 6-foot, 183 pounds, Gladney has an NFL frame and the kind of high-end coverage skills the Bears should be looking to add to the roster. Prince Amukamara's contract expires at the end of next season, and drafting a player like Gladney, combined with 2019 sixth-round pick Dukey Shelley, would strengthen the team's pipeline of young cornerbacks who will eventually be called upon to play.

Jackson, who the Bears take with their second second-rounder in this scenario, suffered an early-season knee injury but returned to earn Third Team All-Big 10 honors this year.

Jackson combined with Tristan Wirfs to give Iowa one of the best offensive tackle duos in college football, but Jackson offers a little less upside on the edge moving forward. Still, the Bears have suffered from underwhelming offensive line play all season and won't hesitate to add a player with Jackson's pedigree early in this year's draft.

As for the rest of the Bears' draft haul, here are some highlights:

Round 4 (projected compensatory pick): Colby Parkinson, TE, Stanford

Parkinson began the 2019 season with some chatter that suggested he'd end the year as the top tight end in the class. And while he ended the season with 48 catches for 589 yards and a touchdown, it wasn't quite the production expected from a player who was supposed to be the next in the long line of promising Stanford tight ends. 

Parkinson's underwhelming season could be the Bears' gain, however. The best part of his game is his ability as a receiver, which is what Chicago is missing most from its offense right now. If he slides into Day 3 and the Bears end up with a compensatory pick in this range, he'd certainly be a viable target.

Round 5 (from Eagles): K.J. Costello, QB, Stanford

Why not tap into the Stanford program twice on Day 3? This time, the Bears go with the guy who was throwing passes to Parkinson. Costello is a solid Day-3 quarterback prospect who has some physical limitations and an awkward throwing motion, but it's critical that Pace adds a developmental passer to the roster even if it's just to become a long-term backup for Trubisky (assuming Trubisky keeps the job).

Costello's been injured all season and was limited to just five games in what was supposed to be a senior year that put him in the first-round conversation. Instead, he'll slide into the third day (at least, he should). He'd make a lot of sense for the Bears, especially from a public relations standpoint. He isn't quite good enough to legitimately challenge Trubisky in 2020, but he has enough talent to potentially develop into a respectable starter down the road.

Round 7: Tucker McCann (K, Missouri)

Kicker alert! Would the Bears dare using a draft pick on a kicker? It seems highly unlikely, especially since Eddy Pineiro is beginning to play better. He's made all of his field-goal attempts during Chicago's three-game winning streak.

That said, Pineiro is connecting on just 76% of his kicks this season, which ranks 25th in the NFL. Not good.

Pace is a pretty loyal guy, and with Pineiro kicking under some of the most intense pressure of any kicking situation in the NFL, one could argue he's weathered the storm pretty well.

The next three games will determine whether Pineiro's roster spot is safe in 2020. If he remains hot, he'll be back. It's as simple as that.

Here is the total Bears' mock draft:

Round 2: Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU
Round 2: Alaric Jackson, OL, Iowa
Round 4: Colby Parkinson, TE, Stanford
Round 5: K.J. Costello, QB, Stanford
Round 5: Larrell Murchison, DL, NC State
Round 5: Kalija Lipscomb, WR, Vanderbilt
Round 6: Tyler Higby, G, Michigan State
Round 7: Tucker McCann, K, Missouri

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Bears head coach Matt Nagy is beginning to find his identiy

Bears head coach Matt Nagy is beginning to find his identiy

What the Bears did to the Dallas Cowboys in Thursday’s 31-24 defeat of the NFC East leaders was significant because of the complete offensive performance.

Based on quality of opponent, gravity of game and player performance, it was quarterback Mitch Trubisky’s career-best game. The 31 points scored by the offense was the most since the mauling of a JV Tampa Bay team last year (when Trubisky threw a career-high six touchdown passes).

And against the Cowboys the offense came back from difficult in-game situations twice.

It wasn’t the Bears that appeared to be settling into an identity that has eluded them through too much of the Matt Nagy era.

Reasons behind the performance against Dallas – collective and Trubisky’s individually – were far from exclusive to this game. Tight-end play, receivers and line doing their jobs are repeatable positives that tell fans an offensive performance like this can and should happen again, more than once.

The difference against the Cowboys? Nagy appeared to be settling into his own identity.

With varying levels of proficiency, his players were running what he laid out and told them to. That changed dramatically against Dallas.

Over the third quarter of the season and into the fourth with Dallas, Nagy has operated less like a coach forcing players into his system and more like a coach molding the offense around his players.

Maybe it was seeing first-hand how miserably coach Matt Patricia forcing the Detroit Lions into his iteration of the New England defense has worked. The Bears’ 2019 turnaround coincidentally started against the Lions.

Whatever the reason, Nagy appeared less lock-stepped with a significantly flawed pass-intensive plan (Green Bay, Oakland, New Orleans losses) that his own personal quarterback nature may prefer. Maybe this is his more adult inner-coach is taking charge.

Players, Trubisky foremost among them, could be excused for feeling some uncertainty about their offense when their coach didn’t have a clear sense of what that offense is or wants to be.

Not a “blame game” situation, however. Nagy, an inexperienced head coach, had a green quarterback on his hands. Trubisky’s true capabilities, comfort levels, and weaknesses are still evolving. Nagy is also dealing with the same route-running, drops, O-line issues and such that plagued Trubisky.

Critically, Nagy’s play-calling has leveled out without lapsing into predictability. He has been less riveted to a game concept with no regard for results and been more adaptable.

When the Bears won three straight to finish the season’s first quarter, Nagy had the offense run the football 29, 24 and 33 times. When he and the offense languished through four straight losses, the Bears ran the football 17, 7, 38 and 18 times.

Since then Nagy has called 24-24-26-23-34 runs and the Bears have won four of those last five.

That doesn’t make Nagy a runnin’ guy. It does, however, make the team better and improves his quarterback’s understanding of the offense.

“Probably three to four, five weeks ago, somewhere in that range where you really started to feel, ‘OK, we're moving the ball,’” Nagy said. “We felt it against the Chargers [when the Bears ran 38 times]. We just weren't good in the red zone, right? But we felt like, ‘OK we're moving the ball,’ that we were limiting three-and-outs.

“And ever since then there's just a great confidence amongst the teammates. They're feeling it, we're feeling it and I think it's reflecting in the game.”

Nowhere more apparent than with Trubisky against Dallas and hopefully going forward.

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