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.” 

Brett Favre says Nick Foles should start for the Bears

Brett Favre says Nick Foles should start for the Bears

Former Green Bay Packers quarterback and Chicago Bears nemesis, Brett Favre, offered his opinion on the Bears' quarterback competition during a recent appearance on Da Windy City Podcast, and suggested Nick Foles is the better option to line up behind center for Chicago in 2020.

His logic is based on an old-school approach to the game: wins.

"I look at it this way: How will Nick Foles play in Chicago? I don't know," Favre said. "I just base it off how they both have performed when they have been given the opportunity, and Nick Foles, I think, has performed better. 

"If you just based it off how they've performed in real game situations, obviously, Nick Foles won a Super Bowl. And played lights out. Just based off of that, Nick Foles is the better player."

Talk about a straightforward opinion. And it's one the Bears' brass might agree with, too. They wanted Foles so much that they traded for him in an offseason that included several quality free agents who wouldn't have cost the team a draft pick to acquire. That said, none of them had a Super Bowl win on their resume (sans Tom Brady) either.

How much stock should Bears fans put into Favre's opinion? It depends. If you're a believer in 'game recognizing game,' then Favre's opinion on Chicago's quarterback competition is as valid as any.

With no preseason games coming this summer, Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace will have less tape to use in their decision-making process. As a result, they'll be forced to rely on a blend of  training camp performances and existing tape from the last couple of seasons. 

If they go back as far as 2017, it'll be hard imagining a scenario where Foles doesn't come away the victor. 

Why Bears don't see need for 'voluntary bubble' amid COVID-19 pandemic right now

Why Bears don't see need for 'voluntary bubble' amid COVID-19 pandemic right now

The Bears will not follow the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in creating a voluntary bubble, coach Matt Nagy said Wednesday, although it’s possible the team’s stance on one could change.

The idea of a “voluntary bubble” was first floated by the Saints, which have one set up during training camp. Players and staff can choose to sequester themselves in a hotel, only going to and from the team’s facility, allowing for something much closer to the true bubbles that’ve worked so well in the NBA, NHL, MLS and NWSL. Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said this week the team has a hotel set up where players/staff can stay during the season, too.

Because they’re voluntary, these team-sanctioned bubbles do not run afoul of the NFL-NFLPA’s agreement on the 2020 season. Although if one were set up, it's likely most (if not all) Tier 1 and Tier 2 individuals would opt into it. 

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If the Bears wanted to set up a bubble, it wouldn’t seem to be difficult – there are plenty of hotels close to Halas Hall in Lake Forest (anyone up for an extended stay at the Marriott Lincolnshire Resort?). But for now, the Bears remain confident in two pillars of their COVID-19 protocols: Their setup at Halas Hall, and their continued education of players, staff and their families about how to pull of a football season in the midst of a pandemic.

“I think for us, we feel really good right now with our quote-unquote ‘bubble’ that we have here,” Nagy said. “It feels very safe. There’s been a lot of hard work behind the scenes to get this set-up that we have. But also, we’re growing, too. I mean, if you came in here five days ago and looked at this complex at Halas Hall and the Water Payton Center, it’s totally different than five days ago. We keep adding to make it better.

“Ryan (Pace) and I joked, it’s like one of those whiffle balls that has all the holes in it everywhere. We keep finding holes and patching them up. That’s probably going to continue for the whole year. 

“So if there’s something that players bring to us or that we feel we can keep ourselves safe in one way or another, we’re gonna do that.”

The Bears, like every other NFL team, may need to be flexible, especially as cases of the novel coronavirus continue to rise in Illinois. What sounds farfetched now may not be so crazy in a month.

But Nagy believes the Bears can avoid an outbreak inside Halas Hall by following strict mask-wearing guidelines, social distancing whenever possible and preaching the importance of responsible behavior away from the facility.

“It always comes back to when you’re outside of this bubble of Halas Hall, you need to be able to be smart and be selfless, not selfish,” Nagy said.

MORE: Should the Bears quarantine a quarterback in 2020?

The Cubs can be viewed as a prime example of how to navigate a season without a bubble, having not had a member of their traveling party test positive for COVID-19 since returning to Wrigley Field in early July. It’s not impossible to pull this off so long as everyone buys in to an extreme level of personal responsibility – and, too, gets lucky in dodging such an infectious, insidious virus.

That kind of commitment (and luck) might just mean the Bears wouldn’t need to create a voluntary bubble somewhere in the northern suburbs of Chicago.

What also can help the Bears here too is their coach’s persistent messaging about and policing of mask-wearing inside Halas Hall, which hopefully will carry over into interactions away from the building. 

“The mask deal is real,” Nagy said. “This is my opinion, and just from what we see and what we hear. You hear a lot of people say, 'Well, you've gotta treat it like everybody has (COVID-19).' In my opinion, you've gotta treat it like you have it, right?

“If you treat it like you have it, you wear your mask and the percentages of spreading it can be a lot lower. When you treat it like you have it, that means everybody has their mask on in this building and that's what you're seeing with a lot of the teams having low test rates with positive tests, and that's how we're going about it.”

 

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