Multiple routes for Mitch Trubisky to Bears starting QB

Multiple routes for Mitch Trubisky to Bears starting QB

Rookie minicamp ended Sunday for the Bears but now a measure of franchise intrigue around Mitch Trubisky starts to build behind the curtain of closed practices. Because the ultimate question about the rookie quarterback now shifts from “how’d he look?” to, with apologies to Mark Sanchez, “who’s better, Mike Glennon or The Kid?” And since all but a few OTA sessions are closed, the answer to any of that is weeks off, maybe months, and it may not be known until starting lineups are actually set.

The Bears are adjusting elements of their quarterback coaching plan for Trubisky, apparent if for no other reason than coaches don’t want to discuss details of whatever. The fact is that over much of the next month or so, Trubisky could astound and even surpass the presumed starter. It’s happened before, although “surprise” wouldn’t quite cover it in this case.

“Really it’s going to start tomorrow,” said coach John Fox on Sunday, the “it” really referring to the bigger picture that Fox is focusing, not just on rookie development. “We’ll spend a little more time with the rookies early in meetings and then we’ll kind of inject them into Phase II of what we’re doing. Obviously we’re not practicing against each other; we can’t do that until Phase III of the OTAs, but there is classroom settings as well as some field time not going against each other.”

The Bears have named Glennon the starter. More than once. But Fox has stated repeatedly what somebody has to be “the starter” at this or any point. He’s demonstrated that depth charts are the definition of “fluid.” Glennon may ultimately be the starter. He and the Bears are certainly planning on it, with Trubisky getting a redshirt year.

But Fox is old school with respect to who plays: not the guy who’ll be better down the road, but the guy who’s better. Present tense. Period. And a core reality here is that Glennon, besides having on-field experience, also knows exactly how the NFL ultimately works – if the coaches think the other guy is better, he plays. If Glennon has a problem with that, you don’t want him anyway.

Trubisky uses the word “competition” even if no one else wants to right now. “We know Mike’s the starter, but competition brings out the best in everyone,” Trubisky said on Friday. “I’m going to come out here and compete. But we know Mike is the starter, so it’s my job to support him and make sure everything I do I can help him as well.”

The NFL, however, is too replete with examples of depth charts being scrambled by rookies. The Bears have been involved in some of those.

Case study: Leonard Floyd

Consider how 2016 unfolded for the Bears and No. 1 pick Leonard Floyd. Not the same position as Trubisky, obviously, but the scenario offered insight into how the Fox staff operates.

Floyd didn’t start until the normally throwaway fourth preseason game but played more than half of Cleveland’s snaps in the game, finishing with three tackles and a quarterback hit. The next time the Bears took the field, Floyd was a starting outside linebacker opposite Willie Young against the Houston Texans on opening day.

Floyd had quietly moved past Sam Acho and Lamarr Houston, who had started in the preseason, at outside linebacker. And while an apparent factor could have been that Pernell McPhee was still in knee rehab, the fact was that Floyd would eventually start five games in which McPhee was active.

So no matter what Fox, GM Ryan Pace, O-coordinator Dowell Loggains or anyone else says at this moment, Trubisky is competing with a chance to become the starter.

Case study: Jack Del Rio-Zach Thomas

Jimmy Johnson in 1996 signed veteran linebacker Jack Del Rio to a one-year contract with the Miami Dolphins; that was in early June, more than six weeks after the Dolphins had drafted Zach Thomas in that year’s fifth round. Del Rio had been a Pro-Bowler two years earlier.

One day after the first preseason game, Johnson cut Del Rio, who’d started for Johnson earlier in his career. Asked why the call to go with the rookie, Johnson said simply, “Zach’s better.”

Any more questions? There were none.

Case study: Brian Urlacher

The day after the 2000 draft, then-coach Dick Jauron announced that Brian Urlacher, the team’s No. 1 pick, ninth-overall, was the starting strongside linebacker. It was a decision the staff had to reverse when Urlacher lost the job to a supremely motivated Rosevelt Colvin after just two preseason games. Jauron acknowledged that giving a job to an unproven anybody was a mistake. Opportunity finally came for Urlacher when Barry Minter was injured in a blowout loss at Tampa. Urlacher stepped in at middle linebacker and all went as it should have.

Urlacher hadn’t beaten out Minter when the change came. Players do not lose jobs because of injury. They lose them because the individual who fills in for them turns out to be better than they are. Urlacher made his first start the following week and started a streak with 6 sacks over the next five games.

Case study: Mike Glennon-Jameis Winston

Glennon was the Tampa Bay starter when the Buccaneers drafted Jameis Winston No. 1 overall in 2015. At this point of the 2015 offseason, Glennon was still the Tampa Bay starter. Winston was taking No. 2 reps in OTA’s, which for the Bears this year start later this month. Those culminated with the three-day mandatory minicamp in mid-June.

At that point, the Lovie Smith staff had seen what they needed and wanted to: Winston was named the starter going into training camp. A light parallel in Philadelphia last year:

As training camp and preseason were winding along, No. 2-overall pick Carson Wentz was third on the Philadelphia depth chart, behind both Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel. The Eagles traded starter Sam Bradford to the Minnesota Vikings and leap-frogged Wentz over Daniel into the No. 1 slot. Who knew?

A qualifier in Winston’s case, besides him being an exceptional student of the game, which there is no reason to suspect that Trubisky is not, was that he also had 27 starts in pro-style offense under coach Jimbo Fisher at Florida State, vs. 13 starts in a spread offense for Trubisky. Wentz’s experience similarly dwarfs Trubisky’s.

No expectation exists that Trubisky will be the Bears’ starting quarterback at any point this season, other than perhaps the starter for the fourth preseason game, which incidentally will be in Soldier Field.

Good seats still available.

Bears training camp preview: Three burning questions for the offensive line

Bears training camp preview: Three burning questions for the offensive line

With training camp starting next week, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ position groups heading into Bourbonnais. Friday's unit: the offensive line. 

1. Will Kyle Long and Josh Sitton flip spots, and will it be effective?

One of the more intriguing storylines to come out of the Bears’ offseason program was the possibility of a Kyle Long-Josh Sitton guard swap, with Long moving from right to left and Sitton to left to right. The prevailing wisdom is that Long’s athleticism would be better suited for the pulls needed at left guard, while Sitton has made Pro Bowls at both positions. But is it prudent for the Bears to make this switch with Long still recovering from November ankle surgery and some nasty complications that came after it? He’s shown he’s skilled enough to already make one position switch on the offensive line (from right tackle to right guard), so there’s no reason to doubt he couldn’t handle another so long as he’s healthy. We’ll see where he is next week. 

“You want flexibility,” coach John Fox said. “You don’t want as much flexibility as we had to use a year ago because we had to play so many guys due to injury. But we’re messing around with (Sitton) and Kyle both playing opposite sides, whether one’s on the left, one’s on the right. We’ll get those looks in camp, we got plenty of time.”

2. Can Charles Leno Jr. capitalize on a contract year?

Leno has been a pleasant surprise given the low expectations usually set for seventh-round picks. He started every game in 2016, checking off an important box for John Fox — reliability. Whether Leno can be more than a reliable player at left tackle, though, remains to be seen (if the Bears thought he were, wouldn’t they have signed him to an extension by now?). He has one more training camp and 16 games to prove he’s worthy of a deal to be the Bears (or someone else’s) left tackle of the future. Otherwise, the Bears may look to a 2018 draft class rich in tackles led by Texas’ Connor Williams and Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey. 

“I know if I take care of my business out here, everything else will take care of itself,” Leno said. 

3. Will Hroniss Grasu survive the roster crunch?

A year ago, Grasu was coming off a promising rookie season and was in line to be the Bears’ starting center. But the Oregon product tore his ACL in August, and Cody Whitehair thrived after a last-minute move from guard to center. If the Bears keep eight offensive lineman this year, Grasu could be squeezed out: Leno, Long, Whitehair, Sitton and Bobby Massie are the likely starters, with Eric Kush and Tom Compton filling reserve roles. That leaves one spot, either for fifth-round guard Jordan Morgan or Grasu. The Bears could try to stash Morgan, who played his college ball at Division-II Kutztown, on the practice squad and keep Grasu. But Grasu doesn’t have flexibility to play another position besides center, which could hurt his case. 

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for tight ends

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for tight ends

With training camp starting next week, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ position groups heading into Bourbonnais. Thursday's unit: the tight ends.

1. Will Zach Miller make the 53-man roster?

Miller didn’t play a single down from 2012-14, and has missed seven games in two seasons with the Bears, but he’s been productive when on the field: 110 targets, 81 receptions, 925 yards and nine touchdowns. But the Bears signed Dion Sims to an $18 million contract and then drafted Adam Shaheen in the second round of the draft, moves that seemingly put Miller in a precarious position heading into Bourbonnais. Not helping Miller’s case is the Lisfranc fracture he suffered last November, which kept him sidelined through OTAs and veteran minicamp in May and June. He’d be a valuable player for the Bears to keep around, but at the same time, training camp could be a perfect storm for Miller to be among the cuts.

“They’re going to cutting it close for training camp,” coach John Fox said of Miller (and Danny Trevathan) in June. “But right now they’re right on target and that’s kind of what we expected all offseason.”

2. What can we expect from Adam Shaheen?

Shaheen was among the bright spots during May and June, hardly looking like someone who played his college ball at Division II Ashland while going against NFL defenders. But those were just shorts-and-helmets practices without any contact, so it’d be premature to project anything about Shaheen off of them. The real test for Shaheen will be when he puts the pads on in Bourbonnais and gets his first experience with the physicality of the NFL after a few years of being head and shoulders — literally — above his competition in college. It’s unlikely Shaheen will live up to his “Baby Gronk” hype in Year 1, but if he handles training camp well, he could be a valuable red zone asset for Mike Glennon as a rookie. 

“You don’t know until you put the pads on,” Shaheen said. “That’s what I’m excited for.”

3. How productive can this unit be?

Between Sims — who had a career high four touchdowns last year with the Miami Dolphins — and Shaheen, the Bears have two new, big targets for an offense that tied for 24th in the NFL with 19 passing touchdowns a year ago. If Miller sticks around, this group would have enviable depth. But even if he doesn’t, the Bears liked what they saw from Brown last year (16 receptions, 124 yards, 1 TD in six games). There are fewer questions about the tight ends heading into training camp than the receivers, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Glennon leans on this unit, especially early in the season.