Bears

Bears QB coach Dave Ragone doesn't mind this type of turnover

Bears QB coach Dave Ragone doesn't mind this type of turnover

John Fox hates drama within his locker room. Through his first two seasons, it's one of two things we've definitely learned (see departures like Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett, trading hubris for harmony). The other thing is his hiding lineups and injuries from the media as best as possible.

With first round pick Mitch Trubisky spending a good chunk of last week in Los Angeles for NFL-mandated rookie events, he returns, now full-time, into the quarterbacks room with the man brought in to start this season, Mike Glennon. Veterans Mark Sanchez and Connor Shaw will provide the sidebars. But it's Glennon who'll have to ignore a sense of déjà vu. Not feeling this is his Jameis Winston 2.0 all over again, as much as the blueprint indicates that's exactly what it is.

Perhaps more so than offensive cooridnator Dowell Loggains, it's quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone who will be in charge of taking the room's temperature. But he truly believes he won't be preoccupied with that as the Bears take the field this week for OTAs.

"It's one of those things, within a quarterback room, about helping the starter, getting that starter ready to play,"  Ragone said two Fridays ago, following the first day of rookie minicamp in Lake Forest. "For anyone who's ever been in that room, egos are not egos when there's a starting quarterback, then the guys behind him.

"Mike's a professional, as well as Mark and Connor. Mike's done a good job of not just embedding himself within the system, but with his teammates. The draft was over, he came in Monday, we went in the classroom and Mike was asking questions about protections. It was as professional as you could imagine."

On Tuesday Glennon will speak publicly for the first time since Trubisky's name was called April 27. The workouts are still non-contact, only in jersey tops and shorts, and an opportunity to see how well the system and rhythm with new receivers is grasped, and how snaps are split.

"It is our job, at the end of the day, to get the starter ready, and obviously getting everybody else feeling ready to play. So we'll figure that out as time progresses," Ragone said.

We'll have to wait until late July and August for a cleaner measure of how practice time is split up, and even then the priority is to get Glennon ready for 2017. But last weekend was Ragone's first chance to see Trubisky on the field, on Halas Hall property.  And he liked the way the signal caller of the future handled the most basic of basics.

"Just calling the system, the new plays, getting out there and having 11 guys line up where they're supposed to, being in charge of that. It's all a process," he said. "Every quarterback is different. They all have different strengths, different weaknesses. So when is a guy ready? When can he play? That doesn't even enter my thought process. To me it's getting each guy – a veteran or a rookie – coached to how we want them, get them ready to play, and then, obviously, playing to their strengths when they're on the field."

So just as he did waiting his turn at North Carolina, the plan (which can always change) is to have Trubisky needing to master "mental reps" for the third time in four years.

"When you're not in, getting the physical rep, mentally you have to go through those exact same mechanics:  How you view the defense, what you're seeing from the back end, where you would go with the football," Ragone said. "If you're not getting that physical rep, that's what you have to do. It'll be the same for everybody that way."

It's not like Trubisky is a stranger to Ragone, who stays close to coaches at his prep alma mater, St. Ignatius High School outside of Cleveland. When the Bears' interest in Trubisky intensified, it brought him back to a 2012 state playoff game between Ignatius and Mentor High School. A triple-overtime, 57-56 loss. Trubisky threw for 411 yards, and ran for 138 more.

"I've known about Mitchell since high school. My high school coaches still have scars of what he was able to do against them his senior year. I think every highlight that gets shown, that's against my high school, so we have a rule, we don't talk about that. It's like Fight Club in the quarterback room."

And with the signing of Glennon and the drafting of Trubisky, the quarterback move in between - of signing free agent Mark Sanchez through much local wailing and gnashing of teeth – now gains more clarity.

"This early on you can feel his being in different buildings, his presence about that," Ragone said. "His ability to relate things, from a personal side and professional side, and you can see the interaction he's already had with Mike and Connor. Those are invaluable. He's been through a lot in a nine-year career.  

"He's a very talented individual and has a lot of experience to draw from. He was a top 5 pick in a big media market (New York) in which he was asked to play (helping the Jets reach the AFC Championship game each of his first two years). He was also asked to play as a veteran, so telling Mike, 'Hey, I saw this…I did this.' To me, he's been a great asset so far."

So Ringmaster Ragone has more excitement than dread about that quarterback room's energy, experience and potential. And he's more interested in serving them than policing them, all with a great sense of respect for whom he's spending all that time with.

"Every quarterback I've been able to coach at this level has been an honor," he said. "I understand being a quarterback at this level. At the end of the day, there aren't many of them. You do the quick math, there's less than 100 that play at this level. I hold that with a very high esteem when you're the top of your position in what you do."

3 things 2020 Bears will need to repeat 2018’s success

3 things 2020 Bears will need to repeat 2018’s success

The first two years of the Matt Nagy era can be boiled down to this: First, a tremendously fun year in which the Bears blew past expectations; and second, a tremendously un-fun year in which the Bears fell short of expectations.

So what will 2020 be closer to: The unbridled joy of 2018 (until the last kick of the wild card round), or the numbing disappointment of 2019 (despite still winning eight games)?

To answer that question, we should start by laying out some expectations for 2020. Broadly: The Bears should compete for a spot in an expanded seven-team playoff field. More narrowly: The Bears’ offense should be, at worst, league-average – about where it was in 2018. And the defense, led by a mauling pass rush, should be one of the best in the NFL even without Eddie Goldman.

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But how do the Bears get 2020 to feel more like 2018 than 2019? Here are three key factors:

The tight end question

Trey Burton did not miss a game in 2018’s regular season, and the Bears’ offense was better because of it. While Burton’s numbers weren’t eye-popping (54 catches, 569 yards, 6 TDs) his steadiness at the “U” tight end spot allowed the Bears’ offense to create mismatches, especially with Tarik Cohen.

Burton never was healthy last year, playing poorly in eight games before landing on injured reserve. The Bears didn’t have quality depth behind Burton, and the “Y” spot was a disaster. The lack of any good tight end play wasn’t the only reason why the Bears’ offense cratered in 2019, but it might’ve been the biggest reason.

The starting point to the Bears’ offense in 2020 is, certainly, figuring out who’s playing quarterback. But the Bears need Jimmy Graham, Cole Kmet and Demetrius Harris to be the fixes their tight end room sorely needs. Just average play from those guys will help the Bears’ offense be closer to what it was in 2018 (which, again, was merely good enough), if not better.

MORE: Where Cole Kmet stands as Bears get to know their rookies

And if the tight end room is a disaster again? It might not matter who starts at quarterback.

Good luck and/or good depth

The 2018 Bears were incredibly lucky in dodging significant injuries early on. Adam Shaheen began the year on IR but returned in November; Kyle Long went on IR after Week 8 and came back Week 17. Depth pieces like Sam Acho and Dion Sims were lost, sure, but the Bears did well to make their absences footnotes to the season.

Even when slot corner Bryce Callahan was injured in Week 14, veteran special teamer Sherrick McManis did incredibly well in his place. Eddie Jackson’s season-ending injury in Week 15 was the most costly, as the Bears missed him in that wild card game against Foles and the Eagles.

But overall, the Bears were both lucky in terms of staying healthy and good in terms of replacing those injured guys in 2018.

The Bears saw some depth shine in 2019 – specifically defensive lineman Nick Williams and inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski – but even still, the defense struggled to dominate without Hicks on the field. And the aforementioned tight end position was a disaster without a healthy Burton. Long never was right, and the offensive line without him (or veteran backup Ted Larsen) never was either. Taylor Gabriel’s off-and-on availability due to multiple concussions hampered the offense, too.

2020 inevitably will be a year of attrition not only for the Bears, but for the entire NFL. In addition to avoiding football injuries before and during the season, teams will have to avoid COVID-19 outbreaks in their facilities. Training and personal responsibility can go a long way in avoiding injuries and illness, but it’ll take a lot of luck, too, for teams to stay mostly healthy.

MORE: Fragility of 2020 season constantly on Bears players' minds

The teams with the best depth will have the best chance of making the playoffs. Will the Bears be among that group? Maybe. But a shortage of draft picks in recent years might be costly. We’ll see.

Betting on pressure

The Bears had one of the best defenses of the last decade in 2018 because of, first and foremost, outstanding coverage from its secondary. The ability of Fuller/Jackson/Callahan/Adrian Amos/Prince Amukamara to disguise their coverages confused most opposing offenses, who by the way also had to deal with Hicks pushing the pocket and Mack marauding off the edge. Hicks and Goldman opened up gaps for Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith to snuff out any attempt at establishing the run. It was a perfect formula.

The 2019 Bears’ defense took a step back not only because Vic Fangio (and defensive backs coach Ed Donatell) left for Denver, but because of player attrition, too. Last year’s defense was good, but not great.

The formula for the 2020 Bears’ defense won’t be the same as it was in 2018, though. The signing of Robert Quinn, coupled with jettisoning Leonard Floyd, hints at a defense predicated on a dominant pass rush. Holes in the secondary were addressed on the cheap, be it with Jaylon Johnson or Tashaun Gipson.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. A trio of Mack/Hicks/Quinn seems impossible to contain. If the Bears’ defense re-emerges as one of the best in the NFL, it’ll be because those three guys lead the way in putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks.  

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Mitch Trubisky, of course, was dubbed Bears' biggest liability in 2020

Mitch Trubisky, of course, was dubbed Bears' biggest liability in 2020

Mitch Trubisky's tenure in Chicago since being the second overall pick of the 2017 NFL draft hasn't been great. It hasn't been terrible, either. It's been a blend of good and bad which has led to an incomplete picture of who he is as a quarterback entering his fourth year in the league. It's the main reason why the Bears traded for Nick Foles; Trubisky can't be trusted (yet) to be the unquestioned starter for a team that on paper has playoff potential.

The fact that Trubisky can't be trusted contributes to the narrative that he's the team's biggest liability. Even if he wins the Bears' quarterback competition, will he really have the unconditional confidence of his coaches and teammates? Will Bears fans have the kind of faith in Trubisky that fans of other contenders have in their quarterbacks? Probably not. There's no reason why they should. Trubisky hasn't been consistent enough through nearly three seasons as a starter to deserve that level of trust.

According to a recent breakdown of every team's biggest liability, it was Trubisky, of course, who took the title for the Bears.

If new Chicago Bears quarterback Nick Foles can beat out Mitchell Trubisky and play well in 2020, the Bears might be a playoff team. If he cannot, Chicago might be looking at a lost season.

While the Bears roster is very talented, Trubisky has been anything but a steady presence under center. He has struggled to push the ball down the field—he averaged just 6.1 yards per attempt in 2019—and has limited what head coach Matt Nagy is able—or perhaps, willing—to do on offense.

Chicago ranked 29th in passing yardage last year and declined Trubisky's fifth-year option this offseason.

If the Bears are again one-dimensional, they're going to find it difficult to be relevant in the tough NFC North.

I ran a poll on Twitter that asked Bears fans who they prefer as the starting quarterback with just over one month to go before the season kicks off. The results were predictably close, but the nod went to Foles (56%). It feels safe to assume a big reason why fans hope Foles ends up QB1 is because of his proven track record in big moments. Even if he's a boring player with a limited regular-season ceiling, he has ice in his veins during the game's biggest moments. He's steady. He's consistent. He's pretty much the anti-Trubisky.

Is it fair to say Trubisky is a liability? Of course, it is. If he fails, the Bears will be set back for several seasons. Even if Foles salvages the team's short-term outlook, the long-term success of the franchise depends on Trubisky living up to his scouting report and becoming a franchise quarterback. And there just isn't enough evidence to prove he's capable of doing that.

If we don't know by now whether Trubisky can turn the corner and be a top-tier starting quarterback in the NFL, it's probably safe to say he can't. 

 

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