- Chicago Bears second-year QB Mitchell Trubisky looks back at his rookie season, how his time at UNC prepared him to start the season on the bench and how he can make a leap in Matt Nagy's new offense.
In April of 2017, when the Bears traded up to take Mitchell Trubisky with the No. 2 overall pick, the former University of North Carolina signal-caller became Chicago’s next franchise quarterback. After Mike Glennon stumbled to a 1-3 start, the Bears handed the keys to the eager rookie. In 12 games, Trubisky worked through growing pains with regard to timing and rhythm in the pocket, but showed off his ability to throw on the move. With a new coaching staff in Chicago, Trubisky’s second year will be crucial to his development as the Bears’ QB of the future. The MMQB asked the 23-year-old quarterback about the lessons he learned as a rookie starter that will help him going forward as the face of the Chicago Bears.
When I wasn’t playing for the first four weeks of the season, I learned a lot about preparation and management of the game. And then on game day, the total operation—what you have to do from warm-ups to pregame to halftime, the operation of the huddle, just being in complete charge. I learned how to process information quickly on the field and then I learned about management of the game, always knowing the situation, always knowing the down and distance, how much time is left, what we need here, and that sometimes a throwaway is better than forcing the ball.
Mark Sanchez taught me a lot about situational football and Mike Glennon taught me about preparation and what days to watch what film. On Monday, we’d watch four to six of the most recent full games. Blitz cut-ups on Monday and Tuesday, third down on Wednesday, red zone and two-minute drills on Thursday. First and second down would be earlier in the week as well. You gotta watch all those cut-ups throughout the whole week just to get prepared. How the three of us helped each other in the room, I will always take that with me.
Waiting three seasons to start at North Carolina prepared me for starting my rookie year on the sidelines. Waiting so long for my opportunity in college was one of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with. Obviously there are a lot tougher things in life then not playing, but when you have a dream and you feel like you are this close, but you are not getting your opportunity, that was really tough for me. But in Chicago, I knew how to handle the situation. You always prepare like you are the starter, mentally and physically. At North Carolina, obviously the wait was a lot longer, and four games doesn’t seem that long in the grand scheme of things, but you just have to believe you will get your opportunity and when you do you have to try to take advantage of it. When I got drafted by Chicago, I felt like it was only a matter of time before I got my opportunity. I didn’t know when, but I knew I had to prepare each week like I was a starter. My experience at North Carolina taught me a lot about patience, how to help the team even when you’re not the starter and how to be a good teammate within the quarterback room. I knew when I got my opportunity I was going to take full advantage of it. And I did, I showed I could play at the NFL level and luckily, I got drafted where I did.
I felt very comfortable in warmups for my first start. I wasn’t nervous before the game, I felt really confident. Maybe that is a little naive on my part because a lot of people don’t give us a chance every week, but as a young guy coming into the league, you’re just excited for the opportunity and you believe you have a chance every single week. Once I completed my first pass, we got going from there. I threw it in a spot where no one else could get it and it was a big third-down conversion. Everything is moving so quickly, you’re not really thinking, Oh, I can do this, I’m an NFL quarterback now. You move on from one thing to the next, you get a play call and you’re just worried about spitting it out as fast as you can in the huddle and moving on to the next play. I took a deep breath and took it all in before we ran out for the first huddle. It was a pretty cool moment, looking around at a packed house on Monday night.
My first interception taught me I need to know when to throw the ball away and live to play another down. I threw a couple passes on the run in that Vikings game and I completed them. And then that one, it was a quick gain that turned into a scramble drill and I forced a ball to Zach Miller that I shouldn’t have. It was first down, two-and-a-half minutes left in a tied game, and we had another two downs to try to convert. It was just a forced throw in a crucial situation. It taught me I need to stay aggressive but I also need to know when not to force it. It showed me how much tighter those windows are in the NFL, there are incredible athletes on the other side that can make just as good of plays as your receiver.
When you get the right look from a defense you have to take advantage of it. Playing the Panthers in Week 7, I connected with Tarik Cohen for 70 yards because we got the look we wanted for the play. We put that play in just for the Panthers that week. We had a through route that ate up the safety and Tarik ran a great route, a double move on the outside. It was pretty windy that day so coach was worried about calling it, but I really wanted to throw the ball down the field. Tarik got wide open, I just put the ball where it needed to be and the O-line did a good job up front. I made that throw a bunch of times in practice and it’s only a matter of time and execution before it is shown on the field. Sometimes you hit it in practice over and over again, and something different happens in the game, but that’s why you put the work in so the things you do in practice can happen on game day and come to life on the field.
People remember that Panthers game because I only threw seven passes and we won with two defensive touchdowns. But I wouldn’t let any one game represent who I am. That game definitely doesn’t represent me because I am a gunslinger, I want to throw the ball around 30, 40, 50 times a game. Us not throwing it, and the playcalls, that is out of my control. I just handled it as best as I could. At the end of the day, for us, a win is a win. It was a sour taste in our mouth on offense, because we felt like we didn’t do our job to help our defense enough, but they played so well that we were still able to come out with a win. You want to win and the goal is to win and you gotta do whatever you gotta do for your team, and the defense just carried us that game, but obviously as an offense you want to help out your defense a lot more.
I think my athletic abilities sometimes get slept on, but it’s something that I have always gone back to and need to continue to use to keep the defense on their heels. When we played the Saints, I scrambled for 46 yards. It was a pass play on third down and the defense brought either cover 1 or cover 0. They brought pressure and my first and second read were covered downfield. I was stepping up in the pocket but my checkdown was taken away because he got eaten up in protection because of the blitz. The defense wasn’t gap sound, and I saw the hole up the middle and I started to take off. As a quarterback, you’re running and you go through one of those holes and a lot of the time it closes up and you get smacked in the side so quickly. I just remembered to keep my head on a swivel, and I thought, Oh, where is everybody at? It was a cool time for me to show my guys I can pull the ball down and take it a good distance. Looking back on it, I probably should have scored if I had cut back left instead of going right. You start to second-guess your ability, if you can cut back or if you should go out of bounds, which I ended up doing. The thing I learned from that is to trust my instincts and be an aggressive runner but also to try to eliminate hits and take care of the football.
Seeing a bunch of defenses last year and having film I can watch from last season is definitely going to help me in year two. The more reps you get from year one and year two, I think the game slows down a bit. Playing against our great defense in practice every day has helped me sharpen my skills. I always have to be on my A game going against our defense in practice. I think this new offense is going to help a lot. It is QB-friendly and you get the ball out quick. It’s all about playmakers, and for me it is just mastering this new offense and memorizing it. It all starts with the play calls in the huddle. It’s happened all my life, the more reps I get, the more comfortable I feel. Hopefully I will take a bigger step this year, and even if I do, I still have a long way to go.
With Matt Nagy, there is a totally different vibe around the building and there’s a feeling that we are headed in the right direction. You can just feel the excitement at practice. We’ve realized that we aren’t the team we were last year. The past is the past, what are you going to do about it this year? We’ve added some guys and we kept the core around us from last year, guys who want to work hard and want to be here and want to win for the Bears. Coach Nagy is an upbeat guy that you want to play for. There is a positive vibe around the building that is going to build a winning culture. His system puts the ball in my hand and allows me to make decisions that allow the offense to be successful, so it’s been a lot of fun. The transition has been good and Coach Nagy has total control.
I think we have the right pieces on offense to have a successful year. We have a couple players that somewhat resemble the playmakers that Nagy had with the Chiefs last year. We have a deep threat, we have a guy who will go up and get it, Tarik and Jordan are so dynamic out of the backfield. We have a really strong O-line coming back this year. For me, it helps to watch a lot of Alex Smith to see how he did to get the concepts or drops or the run plays with his footwork. If we all just play together and execute, we are going to make this offense into our own. I don’t think this year you will be looking at it and saying, Oh, this is the Chiefs offense reborn. Hopefully you’ll just say, this is the Bears offense and it all started in 2018.
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