CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – You know there’s incomplete information on a draft prospect when the first question at his pro day news conference is basically, “What’s your name?”
Is it Mitchell Trubisky? Or Mitch?
“I think they both sound good,” said the North Carolina quarterback, who recently asked to be called “Mitchell” and now has amended that.
(His nickname is “Mr. Biscuit.” There’s even some mystery about that. It’s probably from a former coach mispronouncing his name, or maybe it’s because of his childhood love of biscuits.)
“It doesn’t matter,” he said Tuesday. “I was trying to do my mom a favor and it actually made her happy. So despite the media whirlwind, my mom was happy. So if I can do that for my mom, I don’t really care.”
This is hardly controversial or new – is it Matt Stafford or Matthew? – but it goes to the overall vibe with this highly touted passer. Huge checks will be made out to him soon, yet there’s a metaphorical blank space where some team will write his name. Trubisky has started only 13 games in three collegiate seasons, and he was asked over and over about that at the NFL scouting combine. Furthermore, his Tar Heels played a spread offense, so he’ll have to learn how to call a game as well as how to adjust to the speed and intricacy of defenses at the pro level. He’s been practicing calls in the huddle with his North Carolina quarterbacks coach, which is something Carson Wentz, for example, didn’t need to do after his career at North Dakota State. There aren’t a lot of quarterbacks who played only one college season as a starter in a similar offense and then went on to star in the NFL. (Cam Newton is one example.) Nearly all of Trubisky’s dropbacks came from the shotgun.
“They [spread quarterbacks] don’t say anything in the huddle, they don’t work in a cadence, and when you’re dropping back, you have to know where you’re going with the ball,” said former NFL quarterback David Garrard, who was at the Carolina pro day Tuesday. “You have to know what coverage it is.”
It adds a lot of pressure not only to Trubisky, but to San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch, who was here Tuesday (along with 74 other NFL personnel, but notably absent were the top figures from the Cleveland Browns) to see Trubisky throw. There’s a chance the Browns will take Myles Garrett with the No. 1 pick, which would leave Lynch with an opportunity to fill a major need, starting with the No. 2 overall selection. It will also be a risk: the new GM might make his first big bet on a guy who didn’t finish in the top two in his conference’s quarterback honor roll in 2016.
The other top-rated quarterback in this draft, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, has two national title games on his resume, as well as several high-profile wins against teams like Alabama and Oklahoma. He has seen just about everything a college quarterback can see. Yes, Trubisky beat Florida State in Tallahassee, but he also lost to rival Duke after going up 14-0 in the first quarter. Trubisky threw as many interceptions in that game (2) as Watson threw in all his college fourth quarters combined.
So what puts Mr. Biscuit in Watson’s basket?
Some of the answer was obvious on Tuesday. He’s 6-foot-2, 222 pounds with hands that measure at 9½ inches. He can run. He can whistle the ball. He smiles easily, scans the field quickly, and never looks hurried. He’s the prototype. He made up his own script of throws, and his deep ball was certainly NFL caliber.
“He’s always willing to improve,” said former UNC tight end Jack Tabb, who was here to run routes for Trubisky. “He throws a damn good ball, too.”
But a 70-degree day in North Carolina with your best friends and no defense is not a 30-degree day in Pittsburgh with a Steelers defense and no friends.
“I don’t put a whole lot of stock into this,” said one NFL assistant who was at the workout. “You don’t see them play football.”
There isn’t a lot of football to see, and Trubisky knows that. After finishing his workout, he made sure to tell the ESPN cameras he has played in 30 games even though he has only 13 starts. Of course the obvious question is, “Why is he an NFL franchise quarterback two years after losing the competition for the top job on campus?” Asked later about the reason he didn’t start over Marquise Williams, he showed a trace of edge.
“I had a different journey,” Trubisky said. “Me and Marquise competed here. I felt like I won the job. I felt like I should have been the quarterback, but Coach [Larry] Fedora, it’s his decision, he did what he thought was best for the team. Even though I hated being a backup, as a competitor, I embraced my role. I found ways to get better on my own. I pushed my teammates. I was a great teammate to [Williams] and everybody else. We won a lot of games with him and I thought if I was in there I could have done the same thing and maybe even better.”
This issue isn’t a red flag. The team loved Williams and won with him. Tom Brady had trouble beating out Drew Henson, and no one remembers or cares about that now. The bigger worry is the nature of the offense itself. Holes on the field are wide and a completed pass can look prettier than it really is. A quicker defense will force quicker choices.
Duke exploited Trubisky’s inexperience to some extent in its win. After the two early scores, the Blue Devils changed looks and it changed the game. “He handled it with great poise,” said Duke defensive coordinator Jim Knowles by phone. “Tremendous poise in the pocket. But still, it gave us a chance because it caused him to think for that extra split-second.”
So it’s impossible to know if the sterling performance against the Seminoles last October is more typical than the less-than-ideal finish against Duke. He looked polished on Tuesday, but he also didn’t have the same velocity on one particular set of passes.
“It looked like throwing to his left is an area he can work on,” Garrard said. “The ball doesn’t come out with the same kind of zip. It’s true with most quarterbacks. Those DBs, when they see the ball floating behind a little bit, they pick those off. This isn’t college anymore.”
So you have days like this, which don’t prove anything, and questions like Trubisky faced at the combine, including, “Rating yourself from 1 to 10, how good are you at the Nay Nay?”
“I rated myself a 2, because I’m honest,” Trubisky said. “I’m not going to do it for them because I suck at it.”
He rolls with it. He mentioned workouts scheduled with the Browns, New York Jets, Kansas City Chiefs, and Arizona Cardinals. He seems difficult to rattle, on the field and off, but he hasn’t been tested yet – not the way he will be.
Everyone knows Trubisky’s name now. Scouts know his arm, his footwork and his personality. All impressive.
The rest is a lot of fill-in-the-blank.
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