Splitting up reps for Mitch Trubisky, Mike Glennon the ‘biggest challenge’ for Bears coaches

Splitting up reps for Mitch Trubisky, Mike Glennon the ‘biggest challenge’ for Bears coaches

Mitch Trubisky took part in his first practice at Halas Hall on Friday, running through drills and seven-on-seven work as the Bears began the development process for the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. 

An unpadded practice with a roster of rookies and veterans on tryouts isn’t exactly the time for far-reaching analyses of how Trubisky will grow with the Bears — “I don’t know that we’re quite ready after one practice to define his career,” coach John Fox quipped. But this weekend’s rookie minicamp is an opportunity for Trubisky to take almost all of the reps at quarterback before Mike Glennon, Mark Sanchez and Connor Shaw join him for OTAs later this month and in June. 

Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said the “biggest challenge” coaches have will be dividing up practice reps between their starting quarterback (Glennon) and their quarterback of the future (Trubisky). Shaw, too, is the only returning quarterback from last year’s roster, though he suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason.

“We have to be really smart with our plan and how we practice, because it’s not just one guy, it’s two guys and there’s Mark and there’s Connor,” Loggains said. “So we need to make sure that we’re getting everyone ready to play.”

While Fox didn’t rule out Trubisky winning the starting job by Week 1, as Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz did last year, the Bears have been adamant that Glennon will be their starting quarterback in 2017. But developing Trubisky likely requires giving him more reps than a typical backup may typically receive. 

Loggains emphasized the Bears will be flexible with how those practice reps are divided once they get a better opportunity to assess Glennon and Trubisky. One option could be to run longer practices, though that could be risky for a team that was sunk in part by plenty of significant injuries a year ago. 

If there’s a silver lining to Trubisky only starting 13 games at North Carolina, it’s that he learned how to grow while being a backup during his first three years on campus. Figuring how to take “mental reps” while on the sidelines was an important part of his growth, which culminated in 3,748 yards and 30 touchdowns his senior year. 

“It’s about how good you want to be,” Trubisky said. “You could get better every play whether you’re in there or not. So when you’re on the side, just going through the call in your head, going through your progressions, what you have to do as a quarterback, and just take every single rep whether you’re out there or not.”

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.