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Lack of seeming elite QBs in NFL draft could bode well for Bears

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Lack of seeming elite QBs in NFL draft could bode well for Bears

INDIANAPOLIS – Early in the evaluation process, with the draft still two months distant, one school of thought has gained traction that the 2016 quarterback draft class in fact does not have the headline-grade talent that graces some classes.

This could bode well for the Bears, who are widely expected to invest more than a throwaway late pick on a quarterback to be either/both backup and successor to Jay Cutler. Fewer quarterbacks regarded now as elites point to more quarterbacks drifting down into mid rounds, and developing into winners.

Besides the obvious first-rounders like Peyton Manning, Cam Newton and Carson Palmer, playoff quarterbacks in 2015 came from second rounds (Andy Dalton, Cincinnati), third rounds (Russell Wilson, Seattle), fourth rounds (Kirk Cousins, Washington) , sixth rounds (Tom Brady, New England) and undrafteds (Brian Hoyer, Houston).

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“I know Ron Wolf used to draft a quarterback every year,” Bears GM Ryan Pace has said. “It’s such a critical, critical position, that that’s something we’re always going to look at. And we want competition throughout the entire team, so competition at that position is just as good as competition anywhere.”

But where to find them in a game already desperately thin on pro-grade quarterback talent?

The marquee quarterbacks of the 2015 draft class – Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston – were gone in picks 1-2. And only seven quarterbacks were even drafted among the 256 players selected in the seven rounds, including compensatory picks. After Mariota and Winston, no quarterback was taken until Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson went to the New Orleans Saints – as Drew Brees’ backup.

In the same vein of possible templates for the Bears, the Green Bay Packers selected Brett Hundley out of UCLA with pick No. 147, in the fifth round. No threat to Aaron Rodgers, obviously, but the personnel strategy is one that has worked, no more so than when the Packers used a 2005 No. 1 to draft Rodgers with Brett Favre securely in place.

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The various quarterbacks in the 2016 draft appear to recognize what more than one team official said this week during the NFL Scouting Combine: That players, particularly quarterbacks, need to be developed, not automatically be started.

“You got to go in there and prove yourself,” said North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz, projected by Pro Football Weekly’s draft guide as a pick in rounds 1-2. “You’ve got to earn your respect. No matter if you go into a situation with a Hall of Famer in front of you or a situation with nobody in front of you and it's supposedly given to you, I don't think that's true. You got to earn every bit of it. That's how I'm going handle that situation.”

The notion of serving an apprenticeship is not a complete negative to members of this year’s draft group.

“You've seen guys do it before and be extremely successful with it and you've seen the opposite,” said Cal’s Jared Goff, projected to go as early as the first or second pick overall to as low as the early second round. “It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, but I mean you always want to play. But at the same time, if that's the situation you go into, that's the situation. You get better and you deal with it and you go through the couple of years or whatever it is and do your best and continue to be ready whenever the time comes.”

Recalling moments in Tom Brady history ahead of his likely last meeting with Bears

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Recalling moments in Tom Brady history ahead of his likely last meeting with Bears

As Tom Brady approaches what in all reasonable likelihood will be his last game against the Bears and in Soldier Field, the first time this reporter saw Tom Brady comes very much to mind. Actually the first times, plural. Because they were indeed memorable, for different reasons.

That was back in 2001, when Brady should have started replacing Wally Pipp as the poster athlete for what can happen when a player has to sit out and his replacement never gives the job back. Drew Bledsoe, who’d gotten the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl, had gotten injured week two of that season. Brady, who’d thrown exactly one pass as a rookie the year before, stepped in and never came out, playing the Patriots into the AFC playoffs the same year the Bears were reaching and exiting the NFC playoffs when Philadelphia’s Hugh Douglas body-slammed QB Jim Miller on his shoulder.

After that the playoff assignments were elsewhere, including the Patriots-Steelers meeting in Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship. Brady started that game but left with an ankle injury and Bledsoe came off the bench to get the Patriots into Super Bowl.

Then came one of those rare moments when you are witnessing history but have the misfortune of not knowing it at the time.

The question of Super Bowl week was whether Bill Belichick would stay with Bledsoe’s winning hand or go back to Brady. Belichick of course waited deep into Super Bowl week before announcing his decision at 8 p.m. on a Thursday night, the second time that season Belichick had opted to stay with Brady over a healthy Bledsoe. And of course Belichick didn’t announce the decision himself (surprise); he had it put out by the team’s media relations director.

You did have to respect Belichick, though, going into his first Super Bowl as a head coach with a sixth-round draft choice at quarterback and leaving a former (1992) No. 1-overall pick with a $100-million contract on the bench. The Patriots upset The Greatest Show on Turf Rams in that Super Bowl, Brady was MVP, and Bledsoe was traded to Buffalo that offseason.

History.

That Super Bowl also included one of those performance snapshots the Bears envision for Mitch Trubisky but missed a chance to let him attempt last Sunday at Miami in his 17th NFL start. Brady took the Patriots on a drive starting at their own 17 with 1:30 to play and no timeouts, ending with an Adam Vinatieri field-goal winner.

If Belichick was all right letting his second-year quarterback in just his 17th start throw eight straight passes starting from inside his own red zone, the next time Matt Nagy gets the football at his own 20 with timeouts and time in hand, best guess is that the decision will be to see if his quarterback lead a game-winning drive with his arm instead of handing off.

It may not happen this Sunday. Brady is a career 4-0 vs. Bears, and if there is one constant it is that his opposite numbers play really bad football against him, or rather his coach’s defense. Bears quarterback passer ratings opposite Brady, even in years when the Bears were good: Jim Miller 51.2 in 2002, Rex Grossman 23.7 in 2006; Jay Cutler 32.9 and Cutler again in the 51-23 blowout in Foxboro. Cutler finished that game with a meaningless 108.6 rating, meaningless because Cutler put up big numbers beginning when his team was down 38-7 after he’d mucked about with a 61.7 rating, plus having a fumble returned for a TD, while the Bears were being humiliated.

A surprise would be if Trubisky bumbles around like his predecessors (New England allows an average opponent passer rating of 91.6), but whether he can produce a third straight 120-plus rating…. Then again, Pat Mahomes put a 110.0 on the Patriots last Sunday night, but Deshaun Watson managed only a 62.9 against New England in game one.

Trubisky will make the third of the three 2017 first-round QB’s to face the Patriots. The first two lost.

Brian Baldinger: 'I'm not so sure anybody could've seen the jump that Mitch Trubisky is making right now'

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Brian Baldinger: 'I'm not so sure anybody could've seen the jump that Mitch Trubisky is making right now'

On Thursday, Brian Baldinger released another video clip on Twitter for his #BaldysBreakdowns series, this one praising the recent play from Bears QB Mitch Trubisky.

Baldinger states that Trubisky is "making some kind of jump", referring to how impressed he was with Trubisky's play when compared to his rookie season. 

In the video Baldinger explains in the video how you expect franchise QBs to make a big leap from year one to year two, and a big part of that leap for Trubisky is being unafraid to make aggressive throws downfield.

Baldinger highlighted a play where Trubisky hit Taylor Gabriel 47-yards down the field, choosing to trust his wideout after he hit him with perfect ball placement despite tight coverage. He continued this theme later on in the video, showing Trubisky's TD strike to Allen Robinson, which was whipped right past a Dolphins defender. 

But Baldinger's video wasn't exclusively compliments for Trubisky. He discussed Tarik Cohen's effectiveness as a pass-catcher, saying that you "can't cover him" and comparing him to a Ferrari with his ability to go from first to fifth gear "about as fast as anybody."

He ended his video by showing Trubisky punishing the Dolphins for a blown coverage, hitting rookie Anthony Miller in stride for a 29-yard TD. Baldinger's point in including this clip was to show Trubisky's improved recognition, as he may not have spotted the blown coverage last year. Noticing when and how to take advantage of defensive sloppiness is one of the many things that seperate a "franchise QB" from a stopgap, and Trubisky is trending in the right direction. 

If Baldinger's breakdown is any indication, we should expect Trubisky to keep his incredible momentum rolling when the Bears take on the New England Patriots on Sunday. New England is 3rd worst in the league in passing TDs allowed, giving up 15 scores through the air in six games.