IN­CUM­BENT’S AD­VAN­TAGE

BEARS DE­CIDE TO STICK WITH TRU­BISKY AS START­ING QB AF­TER COM­PE­TI­TION WITH FOLES THAT SET­TLED VERY LIT­TLE

Chicago Sun-Times - - BEARS BEAT - BY PA­TRICK FIN­LEY | pfin­ley@sun­times.com | @patrick­fin­ley

Meet the new Bears quar­ter­back — same as the old one.

Mitch Tru­bisky, who watched the Bears de­cline his fifthyear op­tion a few weeks af­ter they traded for chal­lenger Nick Foles this off­sea­son, was named the starter Fri­day, sources con­firmed to the Sun-Times.

When Tru­bisky takes the field in the sea­son opener Sept. 13 in Detroit, he’ll have likely his last chance to im­pact the team that traded up to draft him sec­ond over­all in 2017 — in­fa­mously ahead of both the Chiefs’ Pa­trick Ma­homes, who be­came both an NFL MVP and Su­per Bowl MVP, and Tex­ans star De­shaun Wat­son.

Af­ter declar­ing un­wa­ver­ing sup­port for Tru­bisky dur­ing his first three sea­sons, Bears gen­eral man­ager Ryan Pace — the man be­hind the draft-day swap — made his first pub­lic ad­mis­sion in March that Tru­bisky wasn’t the long-term an­swer. Later that month, he agreed to send the Jaguars a fourth-round pick for Foles, who re­struc­tured his con­tract into a three­year, $24 mil­lion deal. Pace didn’t pick up Tru­bisky’s 2021 op­tion, worth $24.8 mil­lion, in May, send­ing him to­ward free agency at the end of this sea­son.

Many thought Pace didn’t go far enough in ad­ding com­pe­ti­tion for Tru­bisky, who was one of the NFL’s worst quar­ter­backs in 2019. Among QBs with more than 100 pass at­tempts, he ranked 32nd with an 83.0 passer rat­ing. The Bears were be­wil­dered at times by his de­ci­sion-making.

Tru­bisky’s per­for­mance was a dis­ap­point­ment for a team that ex­pected him to make a sig­nif­i­cant leap in his sec­ond sea­son un­der coach Matt Nagy. The year be­fore, Tru­bisky had a 95.4 passer rat­ing — 17th in the league. He went 11-3 and marched the Bears down­field in the fi­nal sec­onds of their wild-card play­off game against Foles’ Ea­gles at Sol­dier Field, only for kicker Cody Parkey to dou­ble-doink what would have been the game-win­ning field goal. Tru­bisky made the Pro Bowl, al­beit as a re­place­ment for Su­per Bowl­bound Jared Goff of the Rams.

He spent this off­sea­son work­ing on his foot­work and throw­ing mo­tion and get­ting his left shoul­der sur­gi­cally fixed af­ter it lim­ited his abil­ity and ap­petite to run last year. He threw on empty high school fields while Foles and his preg­nant wife were in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

In a tac­ti­cal change from re­cent years, Nagy planned to play his quar­ter­backs in pre­sea­son games this year, be­liev­ing it was the fairest way to pick a starter. How­ever, coro­n­avirus con­cerns scut­tled all

pre­sea­son games and shrank train­ing camp into 2½ weeks of padded prac­tice.

To say Tru­bisky “beat out” Foles dur­ing camp would be a mis­nomer. Nei­ther was sharp. The Bears had hoped one would pull away from the other, but it never hap­pened. “It’s not clear-cut,” Nagy said Wednes­day. The Bears’ self-de­scribed “open com­pe­ti­tion” was just that. Tru­bisky and Foles spent the pre­sea­son split­ting reps pre­cisely in half, en­sur­ing each quar­ter­back got the same num­ber of throws on the same types of plays.

Af­ter camp ended Thurs­day, Nagy be­gan a quar­ter­back con­clave at Halas Hall. Along­side of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Bill La­zor, quar­ter­backs coach John DeFilippo, pass­ing game co­or­di­na­tor Dave Ragone and other as­sis­tants, he ex­am­ined ev­ery throw the quar­ter­backs made in prac­tice. Coaches picked apart not only their ac­cu­racy but the rea­son­ing be­hind ev­ery de­ci­sion.

Foles likely re­ceived the ben­e­fit of the doubt in the room — Nagy, La­zor and DeFilippo had all coached him at pre­vi­ous stops. But Nagy hinted that his­tory might not have much sway when he of­fered Thurs­day that he’d never been a play-caller with Foles as a starter.

Both Pace and Nagy said when they traded for Foles that the com­pe­ti­tion would make both quar­ter­backs bet­ter. But there was no ev­i­dence it did. And the Bears might ac­tu­ally have doomed them­selves to the worst of both worlds; not only did each QB fail to dis­tin­guish him­self in camp, but Tru­bisky prob­a­bly took fewer snaps than any other No. 1 quar­ter­back dur­ing the short­est, most abrupt pre­sea­son in modern NFL his­tory.

That feels like a recipe for fail­ure — although Nagy said Wednes­day that the in­flu­ence one quar­ter­back has on an­other isn’t nec­es­sar­ily seen on the prac­tice field.

“What I think is that both quar­ter­backs in the meet­ing rooms, off the field, re­la­tion­ship-wise, they’re making each other bet­ter, which is what was ex­pected just be­cause they’re good peo­ple,” Nagy said

“On the field, they’re both so laser-fo­cused at try­ing to be the best quar­ter­back that they can that when­ever a play goes on, if one sees some­thing, usu­ally the other one is in the next play. So he can’t tell that player in prac­tice be­cause one’s in and the other is out. They have to talk on the side­line. So a lot of those dis­cus­sions go on in the meet­ing room.”

The con­ver­sa­tions can now take place on the field. Tru­bisky will take all start­ing snaps be­gin­ning with Sun­day’s prac­tice. Foles will in­herit the role for which he was so fa­mous with the Ea­gles: men­tor and bullpen arm.

He took over for an in­jured Car­son Wentz and started the Ea­gles’ fi­nal three games of the 2017 sea­son, then rat­tled off two play­off wins to reach the Su­per Bowl. He went 28for-43 for 373 yards, three touch­down passes and one in­ter­cep­tion — and one in­fa­mous scor­ing catch — to help beat the Patriots and win Su­per Bowl MVP.

The fol­low­ing sea­son, he re­placed Wentz, who was in­jured again, as the Ea­gles eked out a play­off berth.

Seek­ing a start­ing job, Foles signed the largest con­tract of the 2019 off­sea­son — $88 mil­lion over four years — to join the Jaguars. He broke his clav­i­cle in the sea­son opener, fin­ished the sea­son 0-4 and lost his start­ing job to rookie Gard­ner Min­shew.

Foles took a pay cut to join the Bears, be­liev­ing he had a bet­ter op­por­tu­nity to start. He might still be cor­rect — Nagy has said the quar­ter­back com­pe­ti­tion won’t end af­ter kick­off in Week 1.

Tru­bisky, though, will be given the first chance to suc­ceed — or fail. ✶

DY­LAN BUELL/AP

Mitch Tru­bisky will have a chance to erase me­mories of an ugly 2019 sea­son in which the Bears missed the play­offs and he fin­ished 32nd in passer rat­ing among QBs with more than 100 pass at­tempts.

DY­LAN BUELL/AP

Nick Foles, the 2018 Su­per Bowl MVP brought in via trade in March to chal­lenge Tru­bisky for the start­ing spot, failed to dis­tin­guish him­self — as did Tru­bisky — and will be on standby in a backup role.

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