Bears

Multiple routes for Mitch Trubisky to Bears starting QB

Multiple routes for Mitch Trubisky to Bears starting QB

Rookie minicamp ended Sunday for the Bears but now a measure of franchise intrigue around Mitch Trubisky starts to build behind the curtain of closed practices. Because the ultimate question about the rookie quarterback now shifts from “how’d he look?” to, with apologies to Mark Sanchez, “who’s better, Mike Glennon or The Kid?” And since all but a few OTA sessions are closed, the answer to any of that is weeks off, maybe months, and it may not be known until starting lineups are actually set.

The Bears are adjusting elements of their quarterback coaching plan for Trubisky, apparent if for no other reason than coaches don’t want to discuss details of whatever. The fact is that over much of the next month or so, Trubisky could astound and even surpass the presumed starter. It’s happened before, although “surprise” wouldn’t quite cover it in this case.

“Really it’s going to start tomorrow,” said coach John Fox on Sunday, the “it” really referring to the bigger picture that Fox is focusing, not just on rookie development. “We’ll spend a little more time with the rookies early in meetings and then we’ll kind of inject them into Phase II of what we’re doing. Obviously we’re not practicing against each other; we can’t do that until Phase III of the OTAs, but there is classroom settings as well as some field time not going against each other.”

The Bears have named Glennon the starter. More than once. But Fox has stated repeatedly what somebody has to be “the starter” at this or any point. He’s demonstrated that depth charts are the definition of “fluid.” Glennon may ultimately be the starter. He and the Bears are certainly planning on it, with Trubisky getting a redshirt year.

But Fox is old school with respect to who plays: not the guy who’ll be better down the road, but the guy who’s better. Present tense. Period. And a core reality here is that Glennon, besides having on-field experience, also knows exactly how the NFL ultimately works – if the coaches think the other guy is better, he plays. If Glennon has a problem with that, you don’t want him anyway.

Trubisky uses the word “competition” even if no one else wants to right now. “We know Mike’s the starter, but competition brings out the best in everyone,” Trubisky said on Friday. “I’m going to come out here and compete. But we know Mike is the starter, so it’s my job to support him and make sure everything I do I can help him as well.”

The NFL, however, is too replete with examples of depth charts being scrambled by rookies. The Bears have been involved in some of those.

Case study: Leonard Floyd

Consider how 2016 unfolded for the Bears and No. 1 pick Leonard Floyd. Not the same position as Trubisky, obviously, but the scenario offered insight into how the Fox staff operates.

Floyd didn’t start until the normally throwaway fourth preseason game but played more than half of Cleveland’s snaps in the game, finishing with three tackles and a quarterback hit. The next time the Bears took the field, Floyd was a starting outside linebacker opposite Willie Young against the Houston Texans on opening day.

Floyd had quietly moved past Sam Acho and Lamarr Houston, who had started in the preseason, at outside linebacker. And while an apparent factor could have been that Pernell McPhee was still in knee rehab, the fact was that Floyd would eventually start five games in which McPhee was active.

So no matter what Fox, GM Ryan Pace, O-coordinator Dowell Loggains or anyone else says at this moment, Trubisky is competing with a chance to become the starter.

Case study: Jack Del Rio-Zach Thomas

Jimmy Johnson in 1996 signed veteran linebacker Jack Del Rio to a one-year contract with the Miami Dolphins; that was in early June, more than six weeks after the Dolphins had drafted Zach Thomas in that year’s fifth round. Del Rio had been a Pro-Bowler two years earlier.

One day after the first preseason game, Johnson cut Del Rio, who’d started for Johnson earlier in his career. Asked why the call to go with the rookie, Johnson said simply, “Zach’s better.”

Any more questions? There were none.

Case study: Brian Urlacher

The day after the 2000 draft, then-coach Dick Jauron announced that Brian Urlacher, the team’s No. 1 pick, ninth-overall, was the starting strongside linebacker. It was a decision the staff had to reverse when Urlacher lost the job to a supremely motivated Rosevelt Colvin after just two preseason games. Jauron acknowledged that giving a job to an unproven anybody was a mistake. Opportunity finally came for Urlacher when Barry Minter was injured in a blowout loss at Tampa. Urlacher stepped in at middle linebacker and all went as it should have.

Urlacher hadn’t beaten out Minter when the change came. Players do not lose jobs because of injury. They lose them because the individual who fills in for them turns out to be better than they are. Urlacher made his first start the following week and started a streak with 6 sacks over the next five games.

Case study: Mike Glennon-Jameis Winston

Glennon was the Tampa Bay starter when the Buccaneers drafted Jameis Winston No. 1 overall in 2015. At this point of the 2015 offseason, Glennon was still the Tampa Bay starter. Winston was taking No. 2 reps in OTA’s, which for the Bears this year start later this month. Those culminated with the three-day mandatory minicamp in mid-June.

At that point, the Lovie Smith staff had seen what they needed and wanted to: Winston was named the starter going into training camp. A light parallel in Philadelphia last year:

As training camp and preseason were winding along, No. 2-overall pick Carson Wentz was third on the Philadelphia depth chart, behind both Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel. The Eagles traded starter Sam Bradford to the Minnesota Vikings and leap-frogged Wentz over Daniel into the No. 1 slot. Who knew?

A qualifier in Winston’s case, besides him being an exceptional student of the game, which there is no reason to suspect that Trubisky is not, was that he also had 27 starts in pro-style offense under coach Jimbo Fisher at Florida State, vs. 13 starts in a spread offense for Trubisky. Wentz’s experience similarly dwarfs Trubisky’s.

No expectation exists that Trubisky will be the Bears’ starting quarterback at any point this season, other than perhaps the starter for the fourth preseason game, which incidentally will be in Soldier Field.

Good seats still available.

Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

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USA TODAY

Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

NBC Sports Chicago’s John "Moon" Mullin talked with The MMQB's Albert Breer, who shared his thoughts on where the Bears stand — and if they’ll be able to compete — in a highly competitive NFC North.

Moon: The Bears have made upgrades, but they’re in the NFC North and not many divisions are tougher, given the strength at quarterbacks.

Breer: Yes. You look at the other three teams, and they all very much believe they’re in a window for winning a championship. The Packers are going through some changes, but they’ve gotten Mike Pettine in there as defensive coordinator and a new general manager who was aggressive on draft day. I know that internally they feel that’s going to give them a boost, and bringing Aaron Rodgers back obviously is the biggest thing of all.

Minnesota, all the things they did this offseason, signing (quarterback) Kirk Cousins, (defensive lineman) Sheldon Richardson, and they were knocking on the door last year.

The Lions have been building for two years under (general manager) Bob Quinn and (new coach) Matt Patricia, who lines right up with the general manager — the two of them worked together in New England. They really believe that Matthew Stafford is ready to take the sort of jump that Matt Ryan made in Atlanta a few years ago, where you see that mid-career breakthrough from a quarterback that we see sometimes now.

It’s one of the toughest divisions in football, and every team in the division believes that it’s in the position to contend right now.

Moon: We didn’t see a lot of Mitch Trubisky — 12 games — so it sounds possible that the Bears could improve and still lose ground.

Breer: The Lions were pretty good last year. The Vikings were in the NFC Championship game. And who knows where the Packers would’ve been if Rodgers hadn’t broken his collarbone. The biggest change is that Aaron Rodgers will be back, and that’s the best player in the league. It was a really good division last year, and you’re adding back in a Hall of Fame quarterback.

As far as the Bears, there’s going to be questions where the organization is going. It’s been seven years since they were in the playoffs. I think they certainly got the coach hire right. This is a guy who I know other organizations liked quite a bit and was going to be a head coach sooner or later.

And I think he matches up well with Mitch. I think the Bears are in a good spot, but as you said, they’re competing in a difficult environment, so it may not show up in their record.

Moon: A lot of love for the Vikings after they get to the NFC Championship and then add Kirk Cousins.

Breer: A lot of people look at Minnesota and think Kirk Cousins’ll be a huge improvement. And maybe he will be. I think he’s a very good quarterback, top dozen in the league. But Case Keenum played really, really well last year, so it wasn’t like they weren’t getting anything out of that position last year.

The NFC right now is clearly the strength of the league. If you picked the top 10 teams in the league, you could make a case that seven or eight of them are in the NFC. I think there will be NFC teams that miss the playoffs who could be in the Super Bowl coming out of the AFC. There’s a little bit of an imbalance there.

Moon: Trubisky projects as part of a wave of new quarterbacks league-wide, a sea change in the NFL.

Breer: The interesting thing is that this is probably as stable as the league has been at quarterback in a long time. There’ve been questions where the next great quarterbacks will come from, but I don’t know that there’s a team right now in the NFL like you looked at the Jets or Browns last year, where you say that team is definitely drafting a quarterback in 2019.

Everyone either has a big-money veteran or former first-round pick on their roster. One team that doesn’t is the Cowboys, but they’ve got Dak Prescott who’s played really well. Every team in the league has some stability at the position. I think the position is as healthy as it’s been in a long time, and you’ve got a lot of good young prospects.

A significant first practice goes well for three Bears critical to 2018 success

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USA TODAY

A significant first practice goes well for three Bears critical to 2018 success

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — It’s a major Bears story until it isn’t, and in Friday's first practice of training camp ’18, the story was that Leonard Floyd, Kyle Long and Allen Robinson weren’t the story. 

Not even the weather was a story, as coach Matt Nagy continued the two-hour practice without interruption despite repeated torrential downpours. Whether this represented a soggy, wet chapter of Nagy’s campaign of physical practices and getting his team “calloused” is a question, but “It's just a part of what we wanted to do,” Nagy said, with a bit of a smile. “We weren't going inside. We were coming outside unless that (lightning/tornado) horn went off. So it was a good day. The guys fought through it.”

Getting through it was of franchise-grade import for three linchpins coming off significant injuries that cost them all or part of their 2017 seasons. All had been largely held out of minicamps and training camps, making Friday a de facto shakedown cruise for three players the Bears need at the elite levels projected for them.

Floyd practiced without the large brace he’d worn during minicamp work and which he admitted was an impediment to performance. Bears medical and training staff and Floyd have been pointing to this moment as the first step toward full health for the regular season.

“I basically, this whole offseason, I've been working on getting my leg right,” Floyd said on Friday. “I’m not really looking into who's playing where. I've been looking to get back healthy. ... Yeah, I'm able to go full force.”

Floyd’s pursuit speed was noteworthy as he ran down several offensive players with the football.

Players were not in pads, but Robinson similarly flashed, at one point making a difficult catch of a ball slightly behind him as he was tumbling to the ground. If he was holding anything back, it was not apparent in his cuts, routes and runs after catches.

“I feel great,” Robinson said. “It's been a process that we've taken a little bit slower, but I think that was for the best. It just was all about getting me ready for this time right here, so I feel great. I feel 100 percent.”

Long has been buffeted by injuries requiring surgeries over the past two years. The setbacks have taken him down from the Pro Bowl level at which he played his first three seasons.

But he turns 30 in December and is entering his sixth NFL season having missed 14 games the past two years after just one the first three.

“I’m feeling great,” Long said. “It’s really a lot of fun to get out here with my teammates and start camp without any limitations and be able to contribute from Day 1. It feels good. I spent a lot of time with our training staff. I got to know Andre Tucker really well, our new head trainer. He has done a tremendous job.

“You know, it’s Day 1 and I was out there at practice, and I got to hit other guys, and that was fun. I don’t look much into psychological hurdles. But a physical hurdle? Yes, it was. I had a lot going on this offseason. I’m just really happy to be out here.”

All was not good news physically for the Bears as inside linebacker Danny Trevathan and cornerback/special teamer Sherrick McManis were held out of practice after hamstring issues surfaced in their pre-camp physicals. Nagy said neither was considered serious but gave no timetable for their returns.