BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — The training camp reviews of his franchise quarterback were lukewarm at best, and when told this, Matt Nagy shook his head.
It’s a cool Sunday morning in Bourbannais, just minutes after Chicago’s final training camp practice open to the public, and Nagy — the second-year head coach of the resurgent Chicago Bears — has been asked to take stock of that quarterback, Mitchell Trubisky.
Last year at this time, Trubisky was just trying to absorb the playbook of his new head coach and get the team lined up correctly. Now, after a 12-4 season in which he led the Bears to the NFC North title, Trubisky has been given more responsibility, which means nailing down protections, seeing the defense better and working through progressions more efficiently.
This has been a process over the past several weeks, as several observers noted Trubisky has struggled against the Bears’ defense this preseason. Nagy contends that since he already knows the things Trubisky does well, the only way the offense can grow is if the third-year signal-caller pushes through the discomfort of making mistakes in practice, which serves to help the staff figure out everything else he can do.
“Mitch is growing as a quarterback, which is important,” Nagy told Yahoo Sports. “In this offense, it takes a good two-and-a-half, three years until I think you truly know it all, and he’s a kid that wants to be so perfect that sometimes I pull him up and say, ‘Hey it’s OK if you make an error, it’s OK to just play.’”
It’s a process similar to what Nagy went through with Alex Smith, who developed into the league’s best statistical deep-ball passer in 2017, his third and final year under Nagy’s tutelage in Kansas City. And when asked if it’s frustrating that all this could easily be taken as a negative, Nagy shook his head ... but not out of anger.
“No, no it’s not [frustrating] — I’m OK with it,” Nagy said. “As long as Mitchell knows that he’s learning how I coach and I’m learning how he plays.”
And trust, Trubisky does know. Nagy wanted to be sure of it on the morning of Aug. 13, when the two huddled in his office to take stock of where the offense is and most important, survey where it’s headed.
“We threw a lot at myself and the offense throughout training camp,” Trubisky explained. “Whether it’s adding more new stuff or pulling back a little bit and keeping it simple, [we’re] allowing the offense to play fast, allowing me to play fast.”
As Trubisky noted, this is the point of the preseason where Nagy starts fine-tuning what he wants the Bears’ offensive attack to look like over the year. The plan is to build on their bread-and-butter plays from last year while adding new plays that they’ve tested out this camp against their defense, one of the league’s best.
A lot of it, to be sure, hasn’t worked. But some of it has, including the up-tempo stuff that Nagy said intrigued him last year. The thought is if it works against Chicago’s third-ranked defensive unit, it should work against anyone.
“We’re just trying to get to a point where we can get in and out of the huddle fast and then just play fast,” Nagy said. “I felt like there were times last year where we did that, there were times we didn’t. So we as a coaching staff are figuring it out on offense because we’ve got tons of talent — we’ve got a lot of talent — and I don’t think you wanna just overcomplicate things. Just let players play.”
Particularly the quarterback. And it’s worth noting that Trubisky said he feels “really comfortable” with where he’s at in the offense, willing to spread the ball around to the Bears’ vast array of playmakers, from running backs Tarik Cohen and David Montgomery to wideouts Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller, as well as tight end Trey Burton.
“He just wants me to go out there and be the point guard, distribute the ball to our playmakers, and that’s really all I gotta do within this offense,” Trubisky said.
While that might be the case in 2019, it might not be enough to satisfy Bears fans who watched Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Houston’s Deshaun Watson, two quarterbacks taken after Trubisky in 2017, emerge last season as bonafide playmakers who could bail their teams out of trouble when things broke down on the field.
Nagy, however, is confident that Trubisky — a good athlete with a strong arm who can throw on the run and rushed for 421 yards and three touchdowns last season — has that verifiable playmaking gene, too.
“He has that, he has all that,” Nagy said. “Yeah, he’s got it all. And once he gets this offense down, you’ll see more of that.”
There’s already been signs of it.
“Watching game tape, seeing some of the blitzes we do on defense, he’s picking it up,” Nagy said. “He’s making the right Mike [linebacker] ID calls, sliding to the right guys, which is giving him time to throw the ball.”
Fans probably won’t get much of a chance to see any of this improvement before the Bears’ Sept. 5 opener against the Green Bay Packers, since Nagy isn’t big on playing his key starters during the preseason.
But will fans get to see a faster-paced version of an offense that ranked 21st in the league in 2018, further delivering on the up-tempo promise Nagy hinted at a year ago?
“We’ll see, we’ll see,” Nagy smiled. “We’re just getting started.”
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