Bears

Why didn't Mitch Trubisky play earlier? For UNC, there was a 'simple' explanation

Why didn't Mitch Trubisky play earlier? For UNC, there was a 'simple' explanation

One of the central questions surrounding Mitch Trubisky during the draft process — and since the Bears picked him second overall Thursday night — has been: Why didn’t he win the starting job at North Carolina earlier?

Tar Heels quarterbacks coach Keith Heckendorf said that question's answer is “simple.” 

Marquise Williams, who started over Trubisky in 2014 and 2015, wasn’t much of a pro prospect and failed to stick on an NFL roster after going undrafted last year. But consider this timeline:

2013: Trubisky arrives on campus, and the plan is to redshirt him. North Carolina begins the season 1-5 before fifth-year senior quarterback Bryn Renner suffers a season-ending injury. The decision is made to preserve Trubisky’s redshirt and start Williams, who leads North Carolina to five consecutive wins and a victory over Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl. 

2014: Riding that second-half surge, Williams is solidly North Carolina’s quarterback. While the Tar Heels go 6-7, Williams does well in plenty of those losses (like throwing for 303 yards and rushing for 132 in a gouging of Notre Dame’s defense). Trubisky, in his first college action, completes 53.8 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and four interceptions. 

2015: North Carolina goes 11-1 in the regular season, comes close to beating Clemson in the ACC title game and finishes with its highest win total since 1997. While Trubisky completed 85 percent of his passes and threw six touchdowns against no interceptions, Williams throws for 3,068 yards with 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, and rushes for 948 yards and 13 touchdowns.

“That success we had as a team with Marquise made it hard for us to pull him out of the lineup,” Heckendorf said. “And I think if (Williams’ success in 2013) hadn’t happened, there may be a completely different conversation. It was not for a lack of talent, it was not because he wasn’t capable, but it’s hard to take a guy who had the success — not only as the team winning but individually — as Marquise had and put him on the bench for an unproven commodity.”

It wasn’t that North Carolina coaches didn’t know what they had in Trubisky, who impressed Heckendorf when he had those limited chances in 2014 and 2015. 

“Typically, you look across the country, you put your backup quarterback in and you hand it off,” Heckendorf said. “… Every time we put him in there, we were dialing up throws to let him do what he did best. And I think that showed the confidence that (offensive coordinator Seth Littrell) had in him as well as everybody on our staff.”

Trubisky felt like he deserved to be North Carolina’s starting quarterback, but it would’ve been a bold change for Larry Fedora to make in Year 3 or Year 4 of his tenure in Chapel Hill, which are generally of the most important seasons for the longevity of a college football coach. 

A positive view of the future

With Ryan Pace declaring the Bears will not have a quarterback competition in 2017, Trubisky is back to where he was his first three years at North Carolina. 

During those three years, Heckendorf said Trubisky wasn't combative or despondent about his situation, and did well to develop without much playing time on Saturdays. 

"He picks things up very quickly," Heckendorf said. "He’s like a sponge. He welcomed that criticism and he would work to go change it. And typically he didn’t make the same mistake twice, which says a lot about him and how he goes about his approach to getting better. He was great to coach."

Trubisky on Friday offered a glass-half-full assessment of his time on the bench at North Carolina as he returns to a No. 2 role in Chicago. 

“I think that experience helps me a lot for this situation,” Trubisky said. “I know how to learn behind a guy. I’m excited to learn behind Mike (Glennon). “I know how to get better when I’m not getting the starting reps or I’m not the starter. I’m just going to continue to work hard, learn from other guys, pick up as much information as possible. I’m very excited to learn from these coaches and other quarterbacks and players.” 

2020 NFL Draft: Bears land CB, OT in 7-round mock draft

2020 NFL Draft: Bears land CB, OT in 7-round mock draft

The 2019 NFL season is in its final quarter, and with the Bears essentially needing to win-out while also getting some help around the league to make the playoffs, it's important to keep track of the trending NFL Draft narrative building around this team.

The funny thing, however, is that that narrative continues to change.

Just a few weeks ago, the Bears were considered a team that would potentially dip into the pool of quarterback prospects in the early second round, but with the emergence of Mitch Trubisky (he's thrown for 582 yards and six touchdowns in the last two games alone), it appears less likely that GM Ryan Pace will use one of his few draft assets on one.

Tight end was also considered a target for the Bears in the second round, and that could remain the case as the season marches on. But Jesper Horsted is beginning to look like a legitimate sleeper to emerge as part of the answer at such a critical position in coach Matt Nagy's offense.

So where does that leave this team's hierarchy of draft needs as the offseason inches closer? 

According to CBS Sports' new seven-round mock draft, the first two positions the Bears will address with their two second-round picks are cornerback and offensive tackle. In this mock, Chicago grabs TCU corner Jeff Gladney (No. 49 overall) and Iowa offensive tackle Alaris Jackson (No. 50 overall).

Gladney will participate in this year's Senior Bowl at the end of January after a standout career with the Horned Frogs. He was rated the No. 1 cornerback in the Big 12 by Pro Football Focus in 2018 and has been solid once again this season, although he's managed just one interception on the year. 

At 6-foot, 183 pounds, Gladney has an NFL frame and the kind of high-end coverage skills the Bears should be looking to add to the roster. Prince Amukamara's contract expires at the end of next season, and drafting a player like Gladney, combined with 2019 sixth-round pick Dukey Shelley, would strengthen the team's pipeline of young cornerbacks who will eventually be called upon to play.

Jackson, who the Bears take with their second second-rounder in this scenario, suffered an early-season knee injury but returned to earn Third Team All-Big 10 honors this year.

Jackson combined with Tristan Wirfs to give Iowa one of the best offensive tackle duos in college football, but Jackson offers a little less upside on the edge moving forward. Still, the Bears have suffered from underwhelming offensive line play all season and won't hesitate to add a player with Jackson's pedigree early in this year's draft.

As for the rest of the Bears' draft haul, here are some highlights:

Round 4 (projected compensatory pick): Colby Parkinson, TE, Stanford

Parkinson began the 2019 season with some chatter that suggested he'd end the year as the top tight end in the class. And while he ended the season with 48 catches for 589 yards and a touchdown, it wasn't quite the production expected from a player who was supposed to be the next in the long line of promising Stanford tight ends. 

Parkinson's underwhelming season could be the Bears' gain, however. The best part of his game is his ability as a receiver, which is what Chicago is missing most from its offense right now. If he slides into Day 3 and the Bears end up with a compensatory pick in this range, he'd certainly be a viable target.

Round 5 (from Eagles): K.J. Costello, QB, Stanford

Why not tap into the Stanford program twice on Day 3? This time, the Bears go with the guy who was throwing passes to Parkinson. Costello is a solid Day-3 quarterback prospect who has some physical limitations and an awkward throwing motion, but it's critical that Pace adds a developmental passer to the roster even if it's just to become a long-term backup for Trubisky (assuming Trubisky keeps the job).

Costello's been injured all season and was limited to just five games in what was supposed to be a senior year that put him in the first-round conversation. Instead, he'll slide into the third day (at least, he should). He'd make a lot of sense for the Bears, especially from a public relations standpoint. He isn't quite good enough to legitimately challenge Trubisky in 2020, but he has enough talent to potentially develop into a respectable starter down the road.

Round 7: Tucker McCann (K, Missouri)

Kicker alert! Would the Bears dare using a draft pick on a kicker? It seems highly unlikely, especially since Eddy Pineiro is beginning to play better. He's made all of his field-goal attempts during Chicago's three-game winning streak.

That said, Pineiro is connecting on just 76% of his kicks this season, which ranks 25th in the NFL. Not good.

Pace is a pretty loyal guy, and with Pineiro kicking under some of the most intense pressure of any kicking situation in the NFL, one could argue he's weathered the storm pretty well.

The next three games will determine whether Pineiro's roster spot is safe in 2020. If he remains hot, he'll be back. It's as simple as that.

Here is the total Bears' mock draft:

Round 2: Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU
Round 2: Alaric Jackson, OL, Iowa
Round 4: Colby Parkinson, TE, Stanford
Round 5: K.J. Costello, QB, Stanford
Round 5: Larrell Murchison, DL, NC State
Round 5: Kalija Lipscomb, WR, Vanderbilt
Round 6: Tyler Higby, G, Michigan State
Round 7: Tucker McCann, K, Missouri

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Bears head coach Matt Nagy is beginning to find his identiy

Bears head coach Matt Nagy is beginning to find his identiy

What the Bears did to the Dallas Cowboys in Thursday’s 31-24 defeat of the NFC East leaders was significant because of the complete offensive performance.

Based on quality of opponent, gravity of game and player performance, it was quarterback Mitch Trubisky’s career-best game. The 31 points scored by the offense was the most since the mauling of a JV Tampa Bay team last year (when Trubisky threw a career-high six touchdown passes).

And against the Cowboys the offense came back from difficult in-game situations twice.

It wasn’t the Bears that appeared to be settling into an identity that has eluded them through too much of the Matt Nagy era.

Reasons behind the performance against Dallas – collective and Trubisky’s individually – were far from exclusive to this game. Tight-end play, receivers and line doing their jobs are repeatable positives that tell fans an offensive performance like this can and should happen again, more than once.

The difference against the Cowboys? Nagy appeared to be settling into his own identity.

With varying levels of proficiency, his players were running what he laid out and told them to. That changed dramatically against Dallas.

Over the third quarter of the season and into the fourth with Dallas, Nagy has operated less like a coach forcing players into his system and more like a coach molding the offense around his players.

Maybe it was seeing first-hand how miserably coach Matt Patricia forcing the Detroit Lions into his iteration of the New England defense has worked. The Bears’ 2019 turnaround coincidentally started against the Lions.

Whatever the reason, Nagy appeared less lock-stepped with a significantly flawed pass-intensive plan (Green Bay, Oakland, New Orleans losses) that his own personal quarterback nature may prefer. Maybe this is his more adult inner-coach is taking charge.

Players, Trubisky foremost among them, could be excused for feeling some uncertainty about their offense when their coach didn’t have a clear sense of what that offense is or wants to be.

Not a “blame game” situation, however. Nagy, an inexperienced head coach, had a green quarterback on his hands. Trubisky’s true capabilities, comfort levels, and weaknesses are still evolving. Nagy is also dealing with the same route-running, drops, O-line issues and such that plagued Trubisky.

Critically, Nagy’s play-calling has leveled out without lapsing into predictability. He has been less riveted to a game concept with no regard for results and been more adaptable.

When the Bears won three straight to finish the season’s first quarter, Nagy had the offense run the football 29, 24 and 33 times. When he and the offense languished through four straight losses, the Bears ran the football 17, 7, 38 and 18 times.

Since then Nagy has called 24-24-26-23-34 runs and the Bears have won four of those last five.

That doesn’t make Nagy a runnin’ guy. It does, however, make the team better and improves his quarterback’s understanding of the offense.

“Probably three to four, five weeks ago, somewhere in that range where you really started to feel, ‘OK, we're moving the ball,’” Nagy said. “We felt it against the Chargers [when the Bears ran 38 times]. We just weren't good in the red zone, right? But we felt like, ‘OK we're moving the ball,’ that we were limiting three-and-outs.

“And ever since then there's just a great confidence amongst the teammates. They're feeling it, we're feeling it and I think it's reflecting in the game.”

Nowhere more apparent than with Trubisky against Dallas and hopefully going forward.

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