Something jus don’ feel right about this Bears not playing Mitchell Trubisky in preseason… . Jus’ don’ feel right.
It’s not so much the starters; coaches Matt Nagy and Frank Reich texted this week and agreed that they weren’t playing their starters, although it was apparently more a case of Reich following Nagy’s no-starters lead. Whatever.
No, it’s about Trubisky. Because so much of the 2019 Bears and beyond is absolutely still about Trubisky, for whom his coach has been a public cheerleader but who said before training camp that the focus was on ball security, then has had practices speckled with anything but. Whether Nagy is in fact entirely pleased with his young quarterback is between them – not every tick of information says that Nagy is – and the coach is protecting his quarterback at least verbally, again, that’s between them. But it’s preseason and practice, so leave it at that for the time being.
But the situation is difficult to understand, for more than a few reasons.
Nagy’s NFL roots are of the Andy Reid tree. While Nagy was a member of Reid’s staff in Philadelphia, the Eagles in third preseason games started Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick – all on their ways to starting game one’s. In his five years with Kansas City, Nagy was part of the Reid offensive staff that started Alex Smith in every game three, on through 2017 when Smith played 44 (63 percent) of the Chiefs’ 68 snaps in a game three vs. Minnesota.
Nagy isn’t Reid and he doesn’t do or remotely need to do everything Reid did/does, including playing starters, particularly his quarterback, “just because that’s where our team’s at,” Nagy said after the New York Giants game. “Coach [Reid] has his way and I think coach Reid would be the first to tell you that if I’m not being me and if I’m not trying to do what I think is right for our team, then I’m not coach Reid. I’ve learned from him and I’ve learned so much from him, but for our team and our situation, I need to do what’s best for us and just feel like that’s where it’s at. September 5th is an important day for us.”
Ok. Seems to make sense philosophically. Seems to… .
But NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes needs to play (game three last preseason, game two already this year), mentored by Reid, and Trubisky doesn’t? Houston’s Deshaun Watson needed to play the ’18 game three/’19 game two combo, and Trubisky doesn’t? Six-time Pro Bowl’er Russell Wilson and his Seattle Super Bowl ring needed to, but Trubisky didn’t?
Preseason as it is currently constituted needs to go away and probably will at some point. Joint practices are exponentially more preferred both for quality of work starters-vs.-starters and managing player utilization. But right now, preseason is the hand the NFL has dealt its players and coaches.
One vein of thinking is that teams that don’t expend starters in preseason leave more in their tanks at year end, and there may be something to that. Not much, however: Nagy holding his 1’s out virtually of the 2018 preseason doesn’t support that argument.
The Bears finished anything but strong last season. The two playoff teams that the Bears faced over their final 11 games held the Nagy offense to 15 points, including the Eagles and close coaching friend Doug Pederson. It doesn’t necessarily foreshadow or suggest that good teams were beginning to figure Nagy and Trubisky out as the season wound down, but it’s been hinted at in this space previously. In any case, the Bears weren’t in demonstrably, meaningfully better shape down the stretch.
The health thing is a very valid concern; it is with every player, starter or No. 90. Linebacker Leonard Floyd played a chunk of ’18 in a hand cast and then a brace because of a preseason injury, and tight end Adam Shaheen went on IR for much of the year with a lower-leg injury in preseason game two (although Shaheen ended his rookie/2017 season on IR with a chest injury, too).
But tracing the Bears’ exceptional collective good health of 2018 to keeping most of the starters out of preseason will take more than one season to trust as cause-effect.
The fact is that the Bears lost three of their first six games, only two of which (Seattle, New England) were against teams that eventually reached the postseason. The Los Angeles Rams, whose coach Sean McVay held quarterback Jason Goff out of preseason altogether, were the only other playoff team the Bears faced in Nagy’s first season as a head coach, before meeting Philadelphia in those playoffs.
Nagy may indeed be pleased with Trubisky’s practice work and progress. I don’t believe that. I believe there is a lot of coach-speak in play. I also don’t believe that Nagy is going no-starters to match any “trend” that McVay and some younger coaches represent; Nagy isn’t smarter than Reid, Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll and others, but he also is not a follower.
But something about sitting a still-forming Trubisky, who needs to prove to his coach and more that he can in fact throw into tight places without interceptions in an actual game setting, for example, even a “practice” game…that just doesn’t make complete sense.
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