Bears' Matt Barkley 'showing the world' he can be a starting QB in the NFL

Bears' Matt Barkley 'showing the world' he can be a starting QB in the NFL

Nobody is penciling Matt Barkley in as the Bears starting quarterback in 2017, but the fourth-year pro is making the most of his opportunity.

Barkley braved the winter elements and first snowfall in Chicago this season to lead the Bears to a 26-6 throttling of the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field.

No, they weren't the eye-popping numbers he posted in last week's loss to the Tennessee Titans when he had 300-plus passing yards and three touchdowns, but his performance against the 49ers was arguably more impressive if you factor in the weather conditions.

Barkley was able to rebound from a first half in which it took nearly 29 minutes to complete a pass, and finished with 192 passing yards, a 97.5 quarterback rating and zero turnovers. Barkley's numbers were a far cry from his counterpart Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers quarterback completed just a single pass for 4 yards and was benched in favor of Blaine Gabbert.

"I thought he improved. He eliminated any interceptions," Bears head coach John Fox said. "Both teams were pretty cautious early in that game as far as pass attempts. I know they called it snow, but it felt more like rain out there so the ball was hard to hang on to. You saw some true evidence of that early. I thought the way he handled the two minute drive right before the half, we had to open it up some and throw the ball.

"I thought he executed outstanding. I thought that was one of the better drives that he had to manage."

The victory was a major boost of confidence for a quarterback who looked to be out of chances prior to the 2016 season.

After two sub-par seasons as a backup with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he was ironically drafted by the head coach (Chip Kelly) that he defeated for his first career NFL win on Sunday, Barkley was traded to the Arizona Cardinals and was released last August. 

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Barkley was signed to the Bears practice squad behind veterans Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer going into the season. Season-ending injuries to the aforementioned quarterbacks catapulted Barkley into the No. 1 job and forced the Bears coaching staff into seeing if the California native could regain the form that once made him the No. 1 recruit in the nation coming out of high school, and a candidate for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft before he decided to return for his senior year at USC.

Nobody is labeling him the next Tom Brady, but through three games with the Bears, that confidence has returned for Barkley.

"It's at an all-time high in this league," Barkley said. "Just knowing that I can play, that we can make plays as an offense. I'm not holding back, and they aren't holding back on what we are installing from week to week."

He's also starting to make believers out of the other 52 guys in the locker room.

"He's showing the world that he can be a starter in this league," Bears wide receiver Josh Bellamy said. "He can play. He can play football and we all knew that. He's just got to show the world that and that's what he's been doing."

While it's a small sample size, and the No. 1 goal of the Bears front office going into the offseason should be finding a long-term solution at quarterback, the Bears have to be impressed with what they've seen out of Barkley, who is set to become a restricted free agent in 2017.

With four games remaining, Barkley will be given every opportunity to play his way into a future roster spot.

"I know what we are capable of and what I am capable of," Barkley said. "Hopefully we can keep pushing this, and keep the same mentality that we did last week when we were coming off a loss of wanting to get better and striving to perfection."

Trubisky using flashcards to learn Bears offense

USA Today

Trubisky using flashcards to learn Bears offense

Chicago Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky is preparing for his second season in the NFL, one in which he'll be running an entirely new offense, with a tried-and-true method of learning: flashcards.

“Quarterback play is how fast you can process,” Trubisky told the Chicago Sun-Times. “A lot of that is recollection. That’s exactly what flash cards are.

"You’re trying to learn and memorize, and to try to forget what you did in the past.”

Coach Matt Nagy is attempting to install an offense that took five years to master in Kansas City in his first offseason in Chicago. Its success or failure will circle directly back to how well Trubisky operates within its structure.

Despite its complexity, Trubisky feels more comfortable in Nagy's system than the one Dowell Loggains ran last season.

“It’s more complex, but it’s easier [to execute], as opposed to simpler but more difficult.

"That’s how I would describe it last year. Last year, there were probably less words, but they didn’t necessarily fit together. Or it was just more difficult to process. This year, it’s more complex but it’s easier to execute and memorize and remember because everything builds on something. You start with a base concept, and it gets more and more complicated.”

Trubisky's comments illustrate what makes Nagy a potentially special offensive coach. He's making a normally difficult process seem easy, and that's the kind of environment that will facilitate learning and execution.

“It’s just crazy to see. I feel like that’s how it should be done, because it’s a more advanced offense, but we were able to pick it up so quickly over the summer because of how they taught it. And how everything fits together."

Three questions for Bears ILBs: What kind of an impact will Roquan Smith make?

Three questions for Bears ILBs: What kind of an impact will Roquan Smith make?

Pre-camp depth chart

1. Danny Trevathan
2. John Timu
3. Joel Iyiegbuniwe

1. Roquan Smith
2. Nick Kwiatkoski
3. Jonathan Anderson

1. How good can Roquan Smith be?

Making sweeping observations from shorts-and-helmets practices in OTAs is often a fool’s errand, but Smith looked the part while running around the practice fields of Halas Hall after being drafted in April. His quickness and instinctiveness stood out — as they did at Georgia — and his football intelligence and work ethic were praised by coaches and teammates. 

“He’s learning well,” Trevathan said. “He’s doing a good job of learning. He’s learning the little things that you need to learn in this defense. Now it’s all about putting on a show and going out there and rocking.”

And that’s what’s going to be fun to watch in Bourbonnais: How does Smith play with the pads on? Chances are, the answer to that question will be “well,” setting the eighth overall pick on a path to being a mainstay of this defense for years to come. 

That’s not to say Smith doesn’t have plenty on which to work during training camp. But he left Georgia as a sort of “safe bet” in the draft, and nothing he’s done to this point has changed the view of him that he’s likely going to be a good one. 

2. Can Danny Trevathan stay healthy?

In terms of size and athleticism, Trevathan and Smith profile similar to NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis, the inside linebacking tandem that was the spine of the San Francisco 49ers defense during Fangio’s time there. But for Trevathan and Smith to reach that lofty bar — or even to come close to it — Trevathan needs to be more available than he was his first two years with the Bears.

This isn’t questioning Trevathan’s toughness — far from it. That he returned for Week 1 of the 2017 season 10 months after rupturing his patellar tending (an injury that can be a career-ender) was impressive, and that he was immediately productive upon returning was even more extraordinary. But Trevathan missed three games in November due to a strained calf, and coupled with a one-game suspension and the seven games he missed in 2016, the 28-year-old has only played in 21 of 32 games since signing with the Bears. 

Trevathan is confident he can improve his production in 2018, given he wasn’t able to participate in last year’s offseason program practices. He’s entering his third year in Fangio’s defense and feels better prepared after going through OTAs and minicamps this year. It’s just now about him staying on the field to make sure that work pays off.

“I’m more comfortable with this defense, I’m more comfortable with the guys and the calls that we make,” Trevathan said. “I take pride in being correct and working my tail off and making the defense better. And the more that I can be out there — which I plan on being out there a lot — it’s going to help us tremendously.” 

3. How big a role will Nick Kwiatkoski have?

The Bears didn’t draft Smith because they felt like they absolutely needed to upgrade over Kwiatkoski, who’s acquitted himself well in 25 games since being picked in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. But Kwiatkoski has dealt with some injury issues, and for as solid a player as he may be, the Bears’ defense needed (and still needs) more great players. Drafting Smith gave the Bears a shot at adding a great player.

It also leaves Kwiatkoski in the same spot he was in a year ago, when the Bears entered the 2017 season with Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman as their unquestioned starting inside linebackers. Smith still has to earn that starting spot, but the safe bet is he will, relegating Kwiatkoski again to reserve duties.

And that’s a positive for the overall health of this defense, having a player good enough to start ready to play if needed. But it also raises this question: What do the Bears do with Kwiatkoski if he’s one of their four best linebackers, but isn’t one of their two best inside linebackers? 

So for the purposes of watching training camp practices, seeing if Kwiatkoski gets any reps at outside linebacker will be an interesting storyline to follow.