Dave Ragone

How Mitch Trubisky and his coaches are approaching a steep learning curve in training camp

How Mitch Trubisky and his coaches are approaching a steep learning curve in training camp

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — One of the better things a player can be in the eyes of their coaches is someone who “doesn’t make the same mistake twice,” as in if they do screw up, they quickly learn from it. 

Generally speaking, Mitch Trubisky is considered one of those guys. But he’s not immune to making a mistake, and then making it again later in practice, the next day, the next week, etc. That’s not a knock on his football intelligence or his work ethic, both of which are roundly praised by coaches and teammates. 

But it is a reminder that the offense Trubisky is in the process of learning is complex and takes plenty of effort to operate effectively. 

“In a perfect world you would say that you never want to see it happen,” quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone said. “Sometimes as a teacher and a coach, when he does make the same mistake twice, you've gotta look interpersonal at that and say, 'Maybe the way I'm teaching it,' or 'he doesn't understand it' or 'it's not clear.' 

“But for the most part, what he's done is he's attacked every challenge and every problem as, 'Hey, I'm going to fix that,' or, 'Maybe I don't understand that, let me ask a better question,' and he's been really good with that. And like I said, we'll continue to grow with him and continue to push him on that.”

Training camp has been a two-way street for Trubisky’s learning process, then. Not only is Trubisky figuring out what he can and cannot do within the offense, coaches are learning what they can and cannot put on their second-year quarterback’s plate. That doesn’t mean coaches give up after Trubisky messes up a play a handful of times, but it does mean those plays require some additional scrutiny in film study and meetings.

The explanation of the lengthy learning process backup Chase Daniel detailed back during OTAs is particularly noteworthy here:

“It takes time to build mental reps, it takes time to build on-field reps, and that’s what we’re working on,” Daniel said. “He might have the same play two or three times, but we’re in different formations, and he’s like oh, why do I have this again, and I’m like, because you’re going to see it against five different coverages.”

So while Trubisky’s understanding of Nagy’s offense is “night and day” from where it was at the beginning of camp, the Bears are hardly ready to roll out the offense as a finished product right now. That’s to be expected, given 33 days separate Monday’s practice from Sept. 9’s season opener against the Green Bay Packers. 

The Bears will slowly throttle back their focus on installation in the coming days and weeks, which means sifting through reams of evaluation to begin designing gameplans tailored to both Trubisky’s strengths and an opponent’s weaknesses. And Trubisky has a good understanding of what’s expected out of him right now during that figuring-things-out phase. 

“You watch the film and you just go back and you don’t make the same mistake twice,” Trubisky said. “You write it down, you study it, you find out the why for why you made the mistake — bad decision, bad read, bad footwork. For me it’s usually one of those three. And then just go back and correct it. 

“But we’re out here taking risks. We’re figuring out what throws I can make and maybe what throws we should just hold off on, and what routes, and what works (well) and timing. So we just go back and watch the film (and) don’t make mistakes. But we’re out here getting better and we’re testing it to the limit every day to see what I can do and to see what this offense is capable of. We’ve definitely gotten better every single day.”

Sunday and Monday’s practices probably were Trubisky’s two best of training camp, for what it’s worth. But good or bad, each day is an opportunity to learn for Trubisky and the Bears’ coaching staff — and more than anything, that’s the most important takeaway from this team’s time down in Bourbonnais. 

“He needs the reps at it,” Ragone said. “He'll get that again, great, he just saw a different look on that play, he has not seen that before, great teaching tape. Sometimes when you make a mistake down here in training camp, as a coach, you feel OK about it because you're like, 'You know what, we're gonna watch that, he's gonna see what he did wrong, it's gonna stick in his mind and he won't make that again.' And that's what you hope for when guys do make some off-schedule errors that he goes back and corrects them and he's done that so far.”

Bears QB coach on Trubisky: 'It's his huddle now'

Bears QB coach on Trubisky: 'It's his huddle now'

When Mitch Trubisky was drafted by the Bears with the second pick overall in the 2017 NFL draft, veteran QB Mike Glennon was atop the depth chart and had the backing of GM Ryan Pace and then-coach John Fox.

It was assumed Trubisky would at some point challenge him for the starting job, but even the biggest believer in the former UNC standout wouldn't have expected his debut to come as soon as Week 5. Now, entering his second season, it's clear the Bears are Trubisky's team.

"It’s his huddle now," Bears QB coach Dave Ragone told reporters last week at Halas Hall. "At this time last year, he was running with the third string. Now there’s no doubt who the starter is and who the guy is, and he takes that very seriously. He’s got his way about it. Everything is a lot more natural in his second year in terms of the non-X-and-O part of it. Just going out and being who he is. That comes with being in this league, more than anything else."

Trubisky has a different challenge ahead of him this summer. He's learning a new offense, one that coach Matt Nagy admitted took years to master in Kansas City. 

"Every year is a new year," Ragone said. "But, obviously, with a new system, he has done a great job of trying to learn exactly the foundation of the system. How we call things. Why we call things a certain way. He has really owned that. He takes a lot of pride in that. It’s important to him. From Day 1 he has taken that task and run with it."

The Bears surrounded Trubisky with weapons this offseason, headlined by WR Allen Robinson. Chicago has playmakers at all skill positions, something Trubisky was without as a rookie. When factoring Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich into the mix, the arrow is pointing up for the quarterback GM Ryan Pace mortgaged his career on.

Trubisky is the kind of player worth investing in.

"Guys gravitate toward him," Ragone said. "He’s got a certain way of talking to each one of the guys. He understands how each one of those guys tick. And he knows that it’s his job to bring those guys together and motivate them in different ways. He’s not always going to be a rah-rah, in-your-face guy. He wants to do his job first, which is important. He wants to lead by that example, but he’s got a very good way about him with other people."

The Bears need to establish a template for Mitch Trubisky

10-14mitchelltrubisky.jpg
AP

The Bears need to establish a template for Mitch Trubisky

The bye week of every NFL season is a time of intense self-scouting, more in depth than the weekly self-critiquing that is a constant in the NFL. Four games into the NFL career of quarterback Mitch Trubisky, the Bears have something of a philosophical decision to make with their rookie quarterback.

One quarterback ideal in the current NFL is the one who can operate at max production from the pocket, with the ability to turn a broken play into a broken defense when he gets outside the pocket, whether by design, or induced by pressure. Brett Favre, Joe Montana, John Elway, Aaron Rodgers, a few that come to mind.

Trubisky already has established himself as able to move, able to throw on the move, and able to operate in an offense designed around more of his skill set than simply his right arm. Critics of the Bears’ game-planning and play-calling derided the Bears for not doing more with Trubisky’s mobile talents even as the Bears were winning two of his first three starts.

But much of life is about balance (thank you, Mr. Miyagi), and ultimately that is the foundation of a successful offense. Within that context, the Bears need to establish, and likely already have, a template for the kind of quarterback they want Trubisky to become.

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning always thrived in the pocket. Favre, Rodgers and Montana by their own assessments have flourished in chaos. All will wind up in the Hall of Fame. All have had significant injuries, whether pocket-dweller or man-on-the-move.

Mobile Trubisky, but be careful

Will defenses seek to flush Trubisky out of the pocket and keep him in it? And where will the Bears most often want him to be? How mobile do the Bears really want Trubisky to be “on purpose?”

A couple of thoughts, though:

Trubisky can move. No negative there. But his mobility hasn’t been offense-altering and coaches may have good reason for not designing a lot around that mobility, because the NFL may be onto him.

Trubisky averaged 9.6 yards per carry in preseason; his average is down at 7.3 yards per carry in his regular-season starts, and that includes a 46-yard scamper against the New Orleans Saints. Without that, Trubisky is picking up 4.6 yards per run.

Consistent with that, Trubisky was sacked once every 19 drop-backs in preseason, obviously going against lesser defensive talent. He now is being dropped once every 8.5 times he sets up to pass.

Trubisky, at this early point in his NFL career, has been critiqued as being more accurate on the move and/or outside the pocket. This is not necessarily a good thing whatsoever; the last Bears quarterback with that sort of seeming contradiction was Rick Mirer, who was demonstrably better on the fly (insert caustic comment here).

Nor is it necessarily true, at least in Trubisky’s mind.

“We had a higher [completion] percentage in play-action passes and [quarterback] keepers,” Trubisky said. “A lot of the incompletions were throwaways but we can just be higher percentage in those areas and continue to be better on third down. But we’ve been pretty good on drop backs and we just need to keep getting better in the red area to finish with points.”

He is a rookie with all of 13 college starts, about one-third the number that Deshaun Watson had at Clemson, and 572 total college passes, fewer than half the number thrown by Pat Mahomes at Texas Tech — the two quarterbacks his own selection preceded theirs in the 2017 NFL Draft. So the understanding was that Trubisky’s learning curve could well be a little longer or steeper than the typical rookie.

But he is clearly learning, what works and what doesn’t.

Ball-security concept sinking in

Coaches have drilled into Trubisky the importance of keeping the football in Bears hands and no one else’s. He has appeared to get it since before he replaced Mike Glennon, back in preseason when he nearly unseated Glennon outright as the Week 1 starter.

“Just look from game to game that he’s started,” head coach John Fox said. “We’re 2-2 in the quarter [of the ’17 season] that he’s been our starting quarterback, and I think we’ve done a better job of ball security and…we’ll just see where that takes us."

Trubisky threw zero interceptions in 53 preseason attempts even while seeing some pressure (sacked three times). He has thrown two picks in 80 regular season attempts while taking 11 sacks and throwing more than a half-dozen far out of harm’s way. Colleague JJ Stankevitz puts Trubisky in context with other rookie passers, citing QB coach Dave Ragone’s observation that some of ball-security behavior is innate and some is learning progressions and decision-making.

Jay Cutler never appeared to make ball security the priority it needed to be; his interception rates too often were north of 3, normally a tipping point for quarterback play. Favre can disprove some of the rule, but complementary football begins with an offense not putting its defense in difficult situations with turnovers. Only two teams reached the 2016 postseason with quarterbacks throwing INT’s at a rate higher than 2.7 percent.

Priority: Accuracy

Accuracy is prized nearly as much as ball security (they are not unconnected, obviously), and this so far is a work in progress.

Trubisky has completed a very, very modest 47.5 percent of his passes through his four starts. In fairness, however, he threw six passes away in the win over the Baltimore Ravens, a clear indication of movement along the learning curve from the previous week’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings when a forced throw in the closing minutes resulted in an interception that turned a potential winning Bears drive into a Vikings victory.

Just for sake of a meaningless what-if, had Trubisky completed four of those six intentional throwaways, his theoretical completion percentage improves to 52.5 — not the august 67.9 percent he completed in preseason or his 67.5 percent at North Carolina. Neither mean anything at the NFL level, except that his accuracy was a major reason for his evaluation as the top quarterback in the 2017 draft by more than only the Bears. His coaches may have installed a level-one priority for ball security but that does not compromise a natural passing accuracy that Trubisky has demonstrated his entire football life.

“We watched all the passes [last] week – all the red zone and two-minute and play action, every single pass we’ve had this year to see how we can get better and how we can get a higher completion percentage and too see how we can be more efficient all the way around,” Trubisky said. “We’ve been analyzing and self-scouting our own offense to see where we need to get better and at and what we need to improve.”