Chicago Bears

Is the ‘not a winner’ label fair to DeShone Kizer?

Is the ‘not a winner’ label fair to DeShone Kizer?

DeShone Kizer has plenty of the traits desired by NFL scouts, like a strong arm and a 6-foot-4, 230 pound frame. What he doesn't have, though, is the label of being a "winner." It's the opposite for Kizer, who quarterbacked Notre Dame to a 4-8 record in 2016, the program's worst since that embarrassing 3-9 year under Charlie Weis a decade ago. 

Both Bears general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox have touted a quarterback's ability to elevate everyone around him, with Pace at the Combine specifically pointing to Drew Brees' success at Purdue. Kizer, then, doesn't check off that box.

But it's worth noting Kizer was a "winner" two years ago, when he was thrown into action seven quarters into the 2015 season and led Notre Dame within six points of a berth in the College Football Playoff. Kizer threw a last-second game-winning touchdown to Will Fuller at Virginia, led a furious comeback (that fell short on a failed two-point conversion) on the road in a rainstorm against national runner-up Clemson and scored what should've been a game-winning touchdown late against Stanford (only to have Brian VanGorder's defense blow it with under 40 seconds left). 

So how did Kizer go from being a "winner" one year to losing that label the next?

A point to note here is that 2015 Irish team had a bunch of players drafted in the first two days of the 2016 NFL Draft: Fuller and left tackle Ronnie Stanley were first-round picks, while center Nick Martin was a second-rounder and running back C.J. Prosise went in the third round. Kizer not only had less talent surrounding him in 2016, but most of those players he had to rely on were now inexperienced underclassmen. 

Notre Dame's offensive line and running game both regressed without the likes of Stanley, Martin and Prosise. That put more offensive responsibility on the passing game and Kizer, who was without six of his top seven targets from a year ago (the only returning one, Torii Hunter Jr., was sidelined for four games with various injuries). 

But Notre Dame's plummet wasn't just due to that talent drain on offense. Fired were VanGorder (four games into the season) and special teams coordinator Scott Booker (after the season) as both those units struggled do much of anything well. Two games in September were particularly egregious, with Kizer playing well in both but the Irish still conspiring to lose. 

In Week 1, Kizer threw for five touchdowns, ran for another and didn't turn the ball over in Notre Dame's 50-47 double-overtime loss at Texas. Kizer had a few chances to do more later in the game, but it's worth noting he was without Hunter, who left the game in the third quarter due to a concussion. Is it fair to assign "fault" to the guy who had to sub in and out with Malik Zaire in the first half and still had six total touchdowns and no turnovers? 

Twenty days later, Kizer threw for 381 yards with two touchdowns, one interception and one rushing score in Notre Dame's 38-35 home loss to Duke. After earning a quick 14-0 lead in the first quarter, Notre Dame allowed Duke's backup returner to run a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. Duke ripped off touchdown plays of 25, 32 and 64 yards against a feeble Irish defense, with that 64-yarder coming less than a minute after Kizer pulled Notre Dame ahead midway through the fourth quarter. 

In those two games, though, had Notre Dame's defense and special teams merely been below average instead of a complete disaster, Kizer would've done more than enough to earn his team the two wins it needed to reach a bowl game. A 6-6 record hardly is good -- or acceptable in South Bend -- but it probably would've been more forgivable than the ugly stain of 4-8. 

Consider the records of the other four top quarterbacks' teams:

Clemson (DeShaun Watson): 13-1, national champs
North Carolina (Mitchell Trubisky): 8-5, lost Sun Bowl
Texas Tech (Patrick Mahomes): 5-7
Cal (Davis Webb): 5-7

The other side to this, though, is that Kizer and Notre Dame had a chance to win or tie late in the fourth quarter in seven games, with six losses (Texas, Michigan State, Duke, N.C. State, Stanford, Virginia Tech) and one win (Miami). No matter how little help Kizer had, he still had a chance to convert those opportunities and for the most part did not. 

Kizer never wavered in accepting responsibility for those losses during the season, and that message didn't change at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last month. And it's one that should play well in draft rooms as teams decide whether or not Kizer, after a 4-8 season, is worth the investment of a first-round pick. 

"I just didn't make enough plays," Kizer said. "The ball's in my hand every play. It's my job at Notre Dame to put us in position to win games, to trust in the guys around me and develop the guys around me to make those plays with me."

Five reasons Mitch Trubisky should start right now ... and five reasons he shouldn't

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USA TODAY

Five reasons Mitch Trubisky should start right now ... and five reasons he shouldn't

After Mike Glennon had three first-half turnovers in the Bears' blowout loss Sunday in Tampa, Bears fans are more adament than ever that the team should turn to rookie Mitch Trubisky as its new starting quarterback. There are good arguments to be made as for why Trubisky should get the keys to the car right now, as well as for why it would be prudent to wait a while. Let's take a look at those arguments.

Five reasons Mitch Trubisky should start right now ...

1. He gives the Bears a better chance to win

If you’re going to have a quarterback who may be prone to turning the ball over, why not go with the one who’s shown he can make more plays? That’s probably the biggest point in Trubisky’s favor right now, given what we’ve seen from him during training camp and preseason games. His accuracy, arm strength and mobility will translate to the NFL level no matter who he’s playing with or against, and he showed progress in the pre-snap operation of the Bears' offense throughout training camp. — JJ

2. The future has to start sometime

The Bears were obviously planning for the future when they selected Trubisky with the No. 2 pick in the draft, and that future has to start eventually. The Bears might not be ready to compete this season, but if you want that window to open as soon as 2018, you’ve got to give Trubisky the best chance to succeed in 2018 and that might mean getting him some experience in 2017. Think how much more ready Trubisky could be by opening day next season if he has nearly a whole season already under his belt. If it looks like games in which Glennon plays are going to be losses anyway, why not let Trubisky gain some valuable experience while the team is losing? — Vinnie

3. He can cover for defensive/special teams mistakes better than Glennon

It's true what Fox said in that Glennon was not the only guy making mistakes out there against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. From Tarik Cohen's boneheaded muffed punt to the costly penalties by the defense, the Bears had plenty of problems on Sunday. But When those special teams and defensive mistakes were made, they were then compounded by Glennon's turnovers and inability to move the offense. Trubisky, should he play like fans believe he can, would theoretically take better care of the ball and sustain some drives, calming things down even following those bad plays in other phases. If the defense gets torched on a long drive and then Glennon goes three and out, that puts the defense in another bad position. If Trubisky follows that up with a long drive of his own, then the defense is much less likely to make the same mistakes again. — Vinnie

4. He can make the players around him better

As the NFL Combine began in Indianapolis in March, Fox talked about wanting a quarterback who can “raise all boats.” Trubisky flashed some of that boat-raising ability during the preseason, and elevating the play of guys like Kendall Wright, Deonte Thompson, Tarik Cohen, Jordan Howard and Adam Shaheen could quickly negate any concerns about the players around him. — JJ

5. He’ll give the Bears hope

If the Bears exit September 0-4 — meaning they lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers — this season could feel D.O.A. by the time the Minnesota Vikings come to Soldier Field for Monday Night Football on Oct. 9. If Glennon isn’t performing well and the Bears are winless, making a change at quarterback could energize the team. While the locker room seems firmly behind Glennon right now, those players know who should be starting — and if they believe, at some point, that should be Trubisky, playing him could provide a boost. — JJ

... and five reasons Mitch Trubisky shouldn't start right now

1. He doesn’t give the Bears a better chance to win

Bears fans don’t want to hear this, but is there a chance Glennon really does give the Bears a better chance to win than Trubisky? John Fox keeps insisting that’s the case, even if it’s a hard thing to believe after Glennon’s miserable performance against the Bucs. But maybe Trubisky hasn’t yet mastered the offense. Maybe he’s not impressing Fox and his staff in practice. Maybe the success he had during the preseason was a result of the defensive competition he was going against. Fox believes Glennon gives his team the better chance to win, and as hard as that might be to believe, maybe he’s right. — Vinnie

2. The current roster would hurt his development

Look no further than what happened to Jared Goff last year with the Los Angeles Rams: Jeff Fisher, feeling pressure to save his job, inserted Goff into the starting lineup in the 10th game of the season. The Goff-led Rams lost the final seven games of 2016, with the former No. 1 overall pick throwing seven interceptions against five touchdowns. Goff himself struggled, of course, but he didn’t have much help, as former Rams and current Bears running back Benny Cunningham pointed out to CSNChicago.com in August. Having a quarterback flail away with a flawed support system can be a confidence-ruiner with long-term negative effects. — JJ

3. The next two opponents

While it's possible that any and all starting NFL defenses are better than the ones Trubisky faced during the preseason, it's definite that the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers will be difficult competition for the rookie. Why begin Trubisky's NFL career with two games where he's in an especially difficult position to succeed? Sure, one day, the hope is that Trubisky will be able to handle whatever an NFL defense throws at him. But to ask a guy whose last meaningful football came against North Carolina State to try and make crucial decisions against the Pittsburgh Steelers is somewhat questionable. — Vinnie

4. Are we sure Glennon is bad?

Fox caused a Twitter uproar when he said it’s “really hard to evaluate somebody” based on two games. For Glennon, that’s one game in which he executed the Bears’ offense the way the team wanted (Atlanta) and one in which he didn’t (Tampa Bay). Those are Glennon’s only two starts since the 2014 season, for what it’s worth. While there’s no sugarcoating what Glennon did in Tampa, if that game turns out to be an aberration and the rest of his season looks more like the Atlanta game, he’ll continue to be the Bears’ starting quarterback. Giving things time is risky in a short 16-game season, but the Bears aren't throwing away months of evaluation of Glennon because of a couple sub-optimal preseason games and one bad one in the regular season.  — JJ

5. It's too early to deviate from the plan

Pace and Fox might not be Chicago fans' favorite people right now, but they do know football and made a preseason plan based on what they thought was best for the franchise's present and future. And no matter how much fans might decry that plan at the moment, it's hard to imagine that 120 minutes of football is enough to blow that plan up completely. When the season began, their belief was that the team is best served by Glennon playing and Trubisky being on the sideline. That belief still existing is completely understandable considering how early it is in the season. And with Fox potentially seeing his job on the line as the season progresses, sticking with that plan might help the Bears stick with him. — Vinnie

Charles Tillman: FBI agent?

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USA TODAY

Charles Tillman: FBI agent?

Charles Tillman isn't wasting time on life after football.

The former Bears cornerback — one of the best defensive players in an illustrious franchise history — is reportedly training to be an FBI agent, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Tillman turns 37 in February and last played in the NFL in 2015 with the Carolina Panthers. His age is an issue, as the Tribune notes, FBI guidlines stipulate a candidate cannot be 37 at time of appointment, meaning Tillman had to act fast if he wanted to become a special agent.

Tillman studied criminal justice at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. 

In his 12-year NFL career, Tillman appeared in 168 games, tallying 38 interceptions, 141 passes defensed and an incredible 44 forced fumbles. He jarred 10 balls loose in 2012 alone and earned his own wrestling move nickname for his ball-smacking prowess — the Peanut Punch.

Now Tillman apparently is taking his punching talents to Quantico, Virginia.