What’s remarkable about the Bears’ decision to turn to first-round pick Mitch Trubisky, just four games into his rookie season, isn’t that Mike Glennon left the door ajar for this to happen.
It’s that Trubisky was in a position to kick it in.
And the timeline here will explain what I mean by that. In May, when Trubisky got to Chicago with just 13 college starts on his résumé, he needed to be taught how to take a snap from center and spit a play call out in the huddle. He spent the spring learning that. By the end of summer, the coaches were impressed enough with what they’d seen that they were devising a plan to get him starter reps in the fall.
Usually, you don’t do that for a backup—even one who came at the deep investment the Bears made in Trubisky, the second overall pick in the 2017 draft—and that reflects what was obvious to most of us during the preseason, namely that Trubisky hardly looked in over his skis in completing 68 percent of his throws for 364 yards, three touchdowns and no picks in four preseason games.
When I asked Trubisky a week into camp about how far he’d come, he answered like this: “It’s so much better than Day 1. Now I’m in the huddle and I can visualize the play as I’m saying it to the guys. And they can tell by the way I’m saying it that I know what I’m doing. And I’ve been rotating centers a lot, so the more reps I can get with them, the better the snaps will be. The more reps the better.”
That’s really crux of this, according to the people there: The Bears kept putting more on his plate, and he ate up every one of those tests.
Now, this, of course, isn’t just about a rookie getting better. It’s also about Glennon, who certainly had the power to stop this from happening. If Chicago is 3-1 rather than 1-3, it isn’t switching quarterbacks. Glennon’s 4-5 TD-INT differential, 6.0-yard average per attempt, and 76.9 quarterback rating certainly aren’t deterrents to giving Trubisky valuable game reps and riding out the rookie mistakes he’ll make.
The three-year, $45 million free-agent deal Glennon received isn’t what caused a social-media freakout in March. He is the 19th-highest paid QB in the NFL, making much less than Jay Cutler was, and guarantees dictate that this was an easy deal for Chicago to bail from after 2017. Glennon will be paid $16 million this year and is due another $2.5 million guaranteed, which has offset language on it (meaning Chicago’s only on the hook if he doesn’t get that much elsewhere in 2018).
Still, he’s the highest-paid player on Chicago’s roster, and so this is a little different from Houston benching Tom Savage. Again, Glennon could’ve prevented this.
Then there’s head coach John Fox and his job security. He’s 10-26 in Chicago, with a quarter of his third season in the books. And while he and GM Ryan Pace inherited a mess, there’s no question that Fox needs to show the McCaskey family there’s hope for the future coming out of 2017. There is no better way to do that than to get a rookie quarterback playing well.
Which brings us back to Trubisky, who’ll get the 11-day layoff, between last Thursday’s game in Green Bay and next Monday’s home date against the Vikings, to get ready. At the start of the season I had one Bears coach say to me, “It’s like every time out, he does one more thing where you say, ‘That was really good.’”
The accuracy and the ability to go through progression reads were there, as they were on his UNC tape. But so were factors that weren’t on that 13-start résumé. In fact, at that point, he’d progressed from the where he had to learn to position his hands under the center’s rear to being able to run the offense from the line of scrimmage, which represents a pretty good rate of improvement.
So now we, and the Bears, get to see how much further he can go.
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