By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
As one of the oldest professional football franchises, the Chicago Bears have a rich history in the sport, one full of all time great players and moments. Just earlier this year yet another Chicago Bear was inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame in Brian Urlacher.
The Bears have the most hall of famers of any team in the NFL, but one position on the field has left a glaring hole in their history and that position has been quarterback. The last Bears quarterback to get into the Hall of Fame was George Blanda in 1981, whose hay days were from 1949 to 1956.
For far too long, grainy black and white films contained the vast majority of the highlights produced by Bears quarterbacks. Around the turn of the millennium it was clear the league was progressing to a more explosive, offense-centric development with more emphasis on the quarterback position than ever before. The Bears’ first attempted to modernize was by drafting Cade McNown, which turned out to be a horrible mess, the 12th pick of the 1999 draft only lasted two years in Chicago.
A reshuffling of the Bears front office followed, the franchise got back to providing the defense with young talent — Urlacher, for example — and a new attempt at crafting a franchise QB was made in drafting Rex Grossman in the first round of the 2003 draft.
Grossman had an up and down career highlighted by a Super Bowl appearance, but injuries really hurt his development and he like so many other signal callers left Chicago ingloriously.
The next attempt at getting a quarterback was at the time the biggest trade the franchise ever made — the trade for Jay Cutler. Cutler was as prolific as any Bears quarterback and re-wrote most of the team’s records at the position but his lacking leadership and a revolving door of coaches and coordinators stifled most of the promise Cutler provided when he was deemed the man.
Since Cutler left after the 2016 season, its pretty much just been about Mitchell Trubisky, who became a Bear in conspicuous fashion as the second overall pick in 2017. I have been fascinated, like many fans, in seeing how things would be different with the development of this quarterback compared to the previous attempts. Trubisky in some ways was born to play the position but he was as inexperienced a prospect as there’s ever been to be drafted No. 2 overall.
In Trubisky the Bears have their most modern template for a franchise quarterback ever, a guy they can basically mold into their own to do the things that winners do in the NFL today. So what is there to make of this guy through a year and a half of play?
Let’s take a look at how Mitch Trubisky is developing as a quarterback and how the Bears are developing as a franchise that can develop a quarterback.
The Making of Mitch
First, I think its important to praise general manager Ryan Pace for his plans in bringing Trubisky up as a professional. Mitch played last year but that was unexpected, it wasn’t part of the plan. Pace wanted Trubisky to sit back and watch for year so that he can put the right pieces around him.
Things flamed out so quick with 2017 free agent addition Mike Glennon that it no longer became an option to keep the kid on the bench, even though Trubisky wasn’t ready to be more than passable in the NFL.
The overall stats for Trubisky as a freshman: 2,193 pass yards, 7 touchdowns, 7 interceptions. He had a 59.4 percent completion rate, averaged 6.6 yards a throw and maintained a total rating of 77.5. Trubisky struggled for most of the season and there were plenty of reasons for it, mainly from his bare cupboard supporting cast on the field down to the lame-duck coaches on the sideline.
In the off-season to follow Pace did as much as any Bears executive has before him to build a team around a quarterback, from the head coach hired (Matt Nagy) to the assistants that head coach brought in to the big name free agents that were aggressively tracked down to give the young QB guys to throw to.
Pace made a right and risky call in doing everything to mute any concerns or excuses Trubisky could have and in turn putting the responsibility on the young man’s own shoulders to develop. This approach is what smart executives do for positive quarterback development.
With all the groundwork execution done, our eyes shift now to what Trubisky has done up until this point. We talked about 2017, but how about his numbers in 2018? These numbers should tickle anyone’s fancy — 945 passing yards, 8 touchdowns and 3 interceptions through 4 games while completing 70% of his passes and averaging 7.3 yards a throw with a total rating of 101.6.
These are the type of numbers that a franchise quarterback should be touting through one quarter of a season. Now we should say that so much of those raw numbers came courtesy of Trubisky’s unprecedented performance last Sunday against Tampa Bay, which featured 6 touchdowns and 354 yards.
A true break through performance, Sunday’s effort was so unlike anything we’ve seen from the kid since he was slinging it at North Carolina, there may still be reason to worry about it being a mirage, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Trubisky has an excellent skill set with his arm and his legs, he is strong and mobile in ways that most of the best QBs are in pro football today, from Aaron Rodgers on down. It was just a matter of time before he would have that breakout game. Now he and Nagy have a bye week in which they can go back to the drawing board to figure out how to keep things rolling.
We have to remember the type of player the Bears drafted when they picked Mitch. His strengths are his build, athleticism and his arm.
Mitch is not a slight quarterback and has both good weight and height for the position — he has above average arm strength, can make all the throws and is an accurate quarterback, his legs are a game changer too, at the combine he basically put up the exact same numbers as Marcus Mariotta in the speed drills. The good is really good, especially with Mitch’s intangibles, most of his problems stem from his lack of experience.
Every game going forward should make a difference in Trubisky’s maturation, just as it does for any player. You can’t get better unless you play.
Yes, Trubisky has played more NFL games than his closest contemporaries, fellow 2017 draft picks Deshawn Watson and Patrick Mahomes, but Trubisky attempted a mere 859 passes in college compared Mahomes’s total pass of 1,522 and Watson’s 1,599. In the amateur ranks both Mahomes and Watson got the reps that bring a QB along in the most fundamental ways, Trubisky didn’t get those.
When a team drafts a quarterback they look for indicators and flashes that could eventually blossom into consistent play. If the game against Tampa was any kind of an indicator, it is that Trubisky is growing as a passer as he continues to get comfortable within the offense Nagy provides him.
The future for Trubisky isn’t a slam dunk and quarterback development has its highs and lows from year to year. Bears Nation finally got a high with a Trubisky performance and we don’t want to come back down but it is certainly possible more lows are on the way, especially as he plays better teams with higher stakes. Ultimately you have to give Trubisky this season and next to be whatever he’s going to be before we can label him anything.
A common belief in the NFL is that you can’t really judge a draft pick until they have been in the league for about three seasons. How do you feel about Jared Goff right now? Remember how you felt about him at the end of his first year — you thought he was a bust like everyone else did.
How do you feel about Jameis Winston? Many believed he was going to have a breakout season last year and lead the Bucs to the playoffs. At this point he’s barely holding on to his job. What about Marcus Mariotta, with whom Trubisky shares a lot of similarities? No one’s really looking to crown him after one playoff season, but there’s still promise for him.
Quarterbacks are unique, everyone of them. Some are just more similar to others but they all have a different journey to arriving or departing. Mitch deserves some time to just be himself because no one has seen it all with him, but we have been exposed to mostly good things so far.
Plus, the building has been raving about Trubisky’s intangibles from his first day at Halas Hall — his team has his back and you see why from how he addresses the media. The players respect him and receiver Allen Robinson made it a point to say that Trubisky was one of the main reasons why he decided to come to Chicago as a free agent this year.
Bears fans finally got their “Mahomes” game from Trubisky, so for the fans that feel Trubisky will be a bust, you can calm down now and really for the time being.
Just try to enjoy the ride, this sort of quarterback development is unlike anything we’ve seen in Bears history.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR