Let’s make one thing clear: When it comes down to making the final decision between Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles, Bears head coach Matt Nagy will have the loudest and final voice.
Whichever quarterback earns Nagy’s trust in executing the plays he plans on calling against the Lions in Week 1 will earn the starting job in Detroit on Sept. 13.
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But over the next four weeks at Halas Hall, it will be a collaborative effort among a restructured coaching staff to execute a fair and thorough competition. Besides Nagy, there are three other significant coaching voices with day-to-day influence in the biggest decision of the season. Here’s a look at each one of their roles:
Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor
This isn’t the first time Lazor has helped facilitate a competition involving Nick Foles. In 2013, Lazor was the quarterbacks coach in Philadelphia, where Foles competed against Michael Vick and rookie Matt Barkley. Vick won the job out of training camp, but it was Foles who went to the Pro Bowl that year.
“When the decision was made that Michael Vick would start, there was no blinking for Nick. He just kept going, kept going,” Lazor said. “He got in the fourth game of the year, I believe at Denver, threw a touchdown pass. But then when Michael got hurt in the fifth game and Nick went in, he just took off and kept getting better and better and better. So I guess that would be the biggest thing as a coach that it didn’t affect his desire to continue to improve.”
That scenario is relevant because it’s one of the many circumstances that could unfold this fall. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and cancelation of offseason practices, Foles is naturally behind Trubisky at the start of the competition because Trubisky is familiar will his teammates and worked out with many of them over the summer in the Chicago suburbs. It's also worth pointing out that Trubisky has feasted on the Bears’ Week 1 opponent – the Lions – throwing 11 touchdowns to just four interceptions with a 106.3 passer rating in five starts against Detroit.
So it’s entirely possible that Foles comes off the bench to start games for the Bears this season, and Lazor’s experience from 2013 could come in handy if the competition spills into the regular season. In fact, the two are already reminiscing.
“Yesterday, he reminded me of something that I had said back in 2013 and it was really a cool experience for me,” Lazor said Thursday. “He probably doesn’t even know it. He brought up a coaching point … He told me how it affected him and I guess as a teacher and as a coach, what greater compliment can you get than for one of the guys who played for you to tell you that something you said that many years ago, he still remembers it today.”
Lazor is in his first season with the Bears and will have an entire offense to oversee (while also taking on some responsibilities that Nagy is shedding) but he will certainly have a voice in the daily evaluation of both quarterbacks.
Passing game coordinator Dave Ragone
While Lazor arrives on the coaching staff with previous experience with Foles, it’s Ragone who has intimate knowledge of Trubisky. He was involved in the original scouting of Trubisky coming out of college and was his quarterbacks coach for his first three seasons. They remain very close.
But Ragone is in a new role now, one that until Thursday, hadn’t been very well defined to the public.
“It’s one where being able to work hand-in-hand with Coach Lazor from the logistics of putting things together, to working with Coach Nagy, as well things that he had to do that were on his plate in the past and have now been passed forward to Coach Lazor, and obviously with my help as well, to get those things rolling,” Ragone said. “To me, being in this league as a coach now for a little bit of time here, having a chance to move into a coordinator role was something I thought was a great opportunity that I wanted to take advantage of.”
But in that role, with a broader scope of the offense to oversee, Ragone won’t be as hands on with the quarterbacks as he was in the past.
“For me, watching how this plays out is more about the offense in general than just the quarterback spot,” he said. “I know that’s where the spotlight will be on, but the reality is getting the other 10 guys to be in sync with whatever quarterback is gonna be behind center is obviously all of our goal going forward.”
In other words, Ragone still has an opinion and will be evaluating the competition, but the day-to-day, hands-on execution of the competition will not fall on desk like it would in the past. In fact, he hasn’t even spoken to Trubisky much about the details of the competition yet.
“I obviously know Mitchell inside and out. At least I think I do. It's my job to oversee other things and be where I'm needed to be for Coach Lazor and Coach Nagy,” Ragone said. “The conversations with Mitchell are more so how's my family, how are my kids? It's been those type of conversations. To me, it's not my role to get into those conversations with him right now.”
Still, Ragone’s relationship with Trubisky and his library of the quarterback’s performances over the last three seasons will be helpful in the evaluation.
Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo
When it comes to the day-to-day execution of the competition, Nagy will rely heavily on DeFilippo, who enters his first season as the Bears’ quarterbacks coach. After two years of mixed results as an offensive coordinator (with the Vikings/Kirk Cousins in 2018 and Jaguars/Foles/Gardner Minshew in 2019), DeFilippo returns to a comfortable role in which he’s enjoyed success. The last time he was a quarterbacks coach, he helped Foles become a Super Bowl MVP with the Eagles in 2017. He was such a hot commodity at the time that he interviewed for the Bears head coaching gig that Nagy received.
Now, DeFilippo will play a huge role in helping Nagy pick his starting quarterback.
“I’ve got an idea of what I’m going to do to take it one step further than a normal practice that I’ve graded when we have an established starter,” DeFilippo said. “We’re going to take it to the next level a little bit in terms of accuracy, in terms of timing, decision making. We’re going to not just grade whether the ball was completed or not. We’re going to try to divulge into, OK, who’s the more accurate guy, who threw it on time, maybe who was the more mobile guy, who got us the first down with his feet? Little things that you have to make sure of for both guys.”
Much like Nagy, DeFilippo operates with an energetic swagger and confidence that rarely wanes. You can see why the head coach hired him to oversee what they knew would be a competition before the Bears even traded for Foles. While Nagy will make the final decision, it’s obvious he is delegating more this season, and DeFilippo has earned the trust to execute the day-to-day operation of the competition. No one will be around the quarterbacks more than DeFilippo.
“The definition of the quarterback coach, to me, is eliminating as much gray area as you can so the quarterback can play fast,” DeFilippo said. “So if you ask me the definition of my job, that’s my job. So I like to bring a lot of passion, energy and swagger every day to the field. I think it does rub off on our players … I’m not afraid to get after a guy if he’s doing wrong. I’m not afraid to pat a guy on the back. I just think that when you’re the same guy every day, whether you’re going through a four-game losing streak, four-game winning streak, whatever, I think the players respect that every day if you’re the same guy with the energy, passion and swagger at your job. And that’s what I like out of our guys as well — they’re the same guy every day.”
There certainly are a lot of cooks in the kitchen. But there’s only so much space available in a socially distant quarterback room. At least now, the roles of the coaching staff are better defined.
And when Sept. 13 comes around, there’s no doubt it will be Nagy making the call.
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