NICK AND MITCH TALK QB DERBY

With Foles waiting in the wings, Tru­bisky has far less wig­gle room than he en­joyed in the last two sea­sons

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - BY JA­SON LIESER jlieser@sun­times.com | @ja­son­lieser

The vibes com­ing from Bears quar­ter­backs Mitch Tru­bisky and Nick Foles as they head into a piv­otal com­pe­ti­tion couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent.

Foles popped onto a Zoom call Fri­day af­ter­noon ex­ud­ing calm­ness and seemed al­most care­free as he talked about gun­ning for the job but be­ing con­tent with how­ever it turned out. At this stage of his ca­reer, he’s con­fi­dent in who he is and what he can do.

Tru­bisky ar­rived at train­ing camp feel­ing far more pres­sure. He has yet to find a groove as he en­ters his fourth sea­son, and he’s still search­ing for con­sis­tency that seems to have eluded him since col­lege, when he held North Carolina’s start­ing job for one sea­son and went 8-5.

Now, af­ter the Bears blitzed him with the trade for Foles (“I was kind of pissed off in a good way,” Tru­bisky said in June) and re­jected his fifth-year op­tion while he re­cov­ered from surgery on his non-throw­ing shoul­der, he’s scram­bling to stick around.

Foles’ con­tract is guar­an­teed through 2022, mak­ing him the ideal bridge to a new quar­ter­back. Tru­bisky is headed to­ward an un­cer­tain free-agent mar­ket in a mat­ter of months.

He spent the off­sea­son with a new trainer at SPEAR in Ver­non Hills and re­worked his me­chan­ics and foot­work un­der quar­ter­back guru Jeff Chris­tiansen. He also got an eye­ful of his 2019 film, leav­ing no am­bi­gu­ity about how much work he needs to do.

“I watched a lot of ball over this past year and over the sum­mer, and you see the mis­takes,” Tru­bisky said. “You see re­ally good plays. You see some re­ally bad plays. And you see some dumb things that just shouldn’t hap­pen.”

Those “dumb things” were very likely what coach Matt Nagy had in mind over the last eight months when he vol­un­teered that Tru­bisky needs im­prove­ment on mas­ter­ing the of­fense and read­ing cov­er­age.

Those flaws were cen­tral to Tru­bisky’s nose­dive, which was cen­tral to the Bears’ flop in a sea­son that be­gan with Su­per Bowl dreams. The up­side, he be­lieves, is that it’s clear what he must fix.

“Just see­ing the mis­takes I made last year and just know­ing that all of them are eas­ily cor­rectable, that gives me con­fi­dence go­ing into the fu­ture,” Tru­bisky said.

But if they’re so eas­ily cor­rectable, why weren’t they cor­rected?

His passer rat­ing plunged from 95.4 the sea­son be­fore to 83.0, he threw just 17 touch­down passes (three com­ing against play­off teams) in 15 games and his com­ple­tion per­cent­age dipped by a few points. No start­ing quar­ter­back in the NFL pro­duced less than his 6.1 yards per at­tempt.

That’s not the whole story, but it’s a rea­son­able quan­tifi­ca­tion of how lit­tle Tru­bisky helped his team last sea­son.

Sure, the Bears had prob­lems on the of­fen­sive line, at tight end and in the run­ning game, but Tru­bisky didn’t do much to help them over­come those de­fi­cien­cies. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers make it work re­gard­less of their sur­round­ings, and any team that has given up on mea­sur­ing its quar­ter­back against play­ers of that cal­iber might as well move on from him.

Mean­while, as part of Nagy’s vi­sion to mold him into a pure pocket passer, Tru­bisky was no longer any threat as a run­ner. In 2018, his best sea­son, he av­er­aged 30.1 yards rush­ing per game and fin­ished fifth among quar­ter­backs with 421 to­tal. He was at 7.3 yards through 11 games last sea­son be­fore cut­ting loose for 63 against the Cow­boys.

As if he didn’t have enough buzzing in his head al­ready, Tru­bisky no longer has the un­wa­ver­ing sup­port of a coach­ing staff that safe­guarded him the last two sea­sons. It’s not that the coaches don’t sup­port him, but the cod­dling is un­doubt­edly done.

New of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Bill La­zor and quar­ter­backs coach John DeFilippo would balk at be­ing la­beled “Foles guys,” but they’ve coached him be­fore and are new to Tru­bisky. La­zor was the Ea­gles’ quar­ter­backs coach when Foles had a ca­reer year in 2013. Nagy coached Foles, too, in 2012 with the Ea­gles and ’16 with the Chiefs. The other voice in the room is pass­ing game co­or­di­na­tor Dave Ragone, who has been with Tru­bisky since the day the Bears drafted him.

“Be­tween Flip and Bill and Rags and my­self, we just have re­ally good open com­mu­ni­ca­tions,” Nagy said. “One thing that you see con­stant with [Foles and Tru­bisky] is that they’re very com­mit­ted to be­ing the best quar­ter­back that they can be.

“We’re all kind of re­fo­cus­ing. We all have our own sto­ries from last year, and that thing’s in the past.”

Ex­cept that it’s not. The past is never truly buried, and clean slates don’t ac­tu­ally ex­ist in sports. There’s al­ready a book on Tru­bisky, and the nar­ra­tive will con­tinue if he re­peats the same er­rors that brought him to a point where he’s fight­ing for his job. It’ll be easy to con­nect old fail­ures to new ones.

It’s a moun­tain­ous chal­lenge loom­ing when the Bears start prac­tic­ing in two weeks. To prove every­one wrong, in­clud­ing the fran­chise that de­clined his op­tion, Tru­bisky needs to trans­form al­most ev­ery­thing about his game and es­tab­lish him­self. It’s his last chance to get it right. ✶

“We’re all kind of re­fo­cus­ing. We all have our own sto­ries from last year, and that thing’s in the past.” matt nagy

STACY RE­VERE/GETTY IM­AGES

The Bears chose not to pick up quar­ter­back Mitch Tru­bisky’s fifth-year op­tion. In study­ing film of his in­con­sis­tent 2019 sea­son, Tru­bisky ad­mit­ted he saw “some dumb things that just shouldn’t hap­pen.”

MARK ZALESKI/AP

Vet­eran quar­ter­back Nick Foles came to the Bears in a trade with the Jaguars. His pres­ence gives the team a vi­able op­tion if Mitch Tru­bisky fal­ters.

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