And before we get to the (potential) good news, here’s how Bears general manager Ryan Pace on Tuesday described where they are as a franchise with their work-in-progress passer: “Patience with a quarterback is hard, but a lot of things pay off if you're able to get through these tough times.”
Head coach Matt Nagy spoke in his first season about teaching Trubisky and the rest of the Bears offense the 101 level class of his scheme. The Bears went 12-4 (with four one-score losses) and won the division. Trubisky had his limitations but was far from a liability.
The 2019 season was a “regression,” as Pace said. Their 8-8 season felt like a major step back for a team some felt had Super Bowl chops. If this season was the 202-level course for the offense, Trubisky, and many others on offense, might have flunked and need to retake the class next semester.
How the Bears want Mitch Trubisky to improve
Asked what, first and foremost, Trubisky needed to do to take the proverbial next step in his development, Nagy said:
“Number one is, I want him to be a master at understanding coverages. ... Let’s not get tricked.”
Nagy added: “He’s not far, but we need to hammer it this offseason — the number of different coverages he’s getting that are out there.”
The word “consistency” was harped on quite a bit, although few specifics were laid out as to what that means or how it will be achieved. To his credit, Nagy also mentioned he needs to do a better job of helping out his quarterback as best he can.
But Nagy also wants to see Trubisky change his mechanics, even if “everything from the shoulders up” — in other words, his actual throwing motion — is not going to be tinkered with. The issue, Nagy said, was Trubisky’s footwork in the pocket, saying that he needs a little more trust in his protection and not drifting out needlessly.
“This offense is about timing,” Nagy said, and some of that timing was thrown off when Trubisky didn’t have his feet set and ready to throw on time.
Pace said Nagy “has a master's [degree]” in QB development, so it’s clear that the GM is doubling down on his two biggest investments so far in this job. Drafting Trubisky (over Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes) and hiring Nagy are the two biggest elements of Pace’s legacy so far, and it’s a decidedly unclear net result so far.
Pace isn’t veering from his plan or admitting mistakes. Not yet, anyway.
“I don’t think we’re there yet,” Pace said when asked what went wrong with his initial evaluation of Trubisky. “I think we’re still watching the guy grow."
One year ago when Pace and Nagy performed their autopsy on the 2018 season, Pace was asked whether the Bears would tender pass rusher Leonard Floyd his fifth-year option. The answer was a clear, decisive yes.
Asked the same question about Trubisky and the pending decision on his fifth-year option for the 2021 season, Pace would not bite: “We’re not at that point yet.”
What the Bears’ offseason can do to help
Despite admitting that there are “hard decisions in the next four or five months,” Pace isn’t including starting quarterback on that list.
What about competition for Trubisky? Pace left that door open.
“I think we are looking to increase competition at every position,” he said. “Mitch is our starter. But two of the three quarterbacks in that room are free agents, so we need to look at all our options.”
That could include one of a slew of veteran QBs with starting experience who are expected to hit the market. In his mind, Pace had to say Tuesday that Trubisky was his starter right now. But who is to say that can’t include a quarterback capable of wresting away that starting job?
The route for improving the QB competition might also include the draft, and — reading between the lines of what was said at Halas Hall — it sounded like the Bears will go forward with three quarterbacks. So that could give them Trubisky, a veteran with starting experience and possibly a developmental option via the draft.
As for the draft, the Bears lack a first-round pick — it’s property of the Oakland Raiders from the Khalil Mack trade. Pace currently has two second-round picks (both in the top 50 overall), two fifth-rounders, two sixths and one seventh. The Bears also are projected to land a fourth-round compensatory pick for losing Adrian Amos to the Green Bay Packers last March.
Pace said one of his strengths is to remove emotion from decision making, so as much as it sounds as if he’s digging in his heels on Trubisky and Nagy getting it right, it’s possible that the GM will buttress his hope with insurance.
“We won the division last year; you saw it,” he said. “This year, we stepped back ... our heads are not in the sand.”
Other worries for the Bears
They have several players who have battled injuries on offense — multiple linemen, tight ends Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen, and wide receiver Anthony Miller, who will have a second surgery on his troublesome left shoulder.
It’s clear that multiple starting positions will be up for grabs. Veteran guard Kyle Long might be shown the door. The Bears could look for one (or two) new starting offensive tackles. The TE room badly needs more reliability. There could be additions to the receivers and running backs as well.
It also appears there will be staff changes, and it’s no surprise the most prominent ones are coming on offense:
The #Bears are firing offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand.
— Adam Jahns (@adamjahns) December 31, 2019
That might mean that Trubisky’s pivotal fourth NFL season — third under Nagy — will come with quite a few new faces on offense. There’s a lot to sort out for an offense that failed to reach the 300-point plateau and ranked near the bottom of the NFL in most crucial metrics for success.
For now, Trubisky is one of the few known static pieces, along with players such as Allen Robinson, David Montgomery and James Daniels. Trubisky got his public backing on Tuesday, but for the first time since his rookie season under a different coaching staff he can expect some internal pressure for his job.
So if you are worried that the Bears are tightening their tether to Trubisky, keep this tweet from a few years ago in perspective to what the team’s brass sold on Tuesday:
Pace: "Mike Glennon is our starting quarterback and we're fired up about that."
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) March 10, 2017
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