RYAN’S HOPE

Pace’s be­lief in Tru­bisky is based more on hope than any hard facts of­fered by QB

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - MARK POTASH mpotash@suntimes.com | @MarkPo­tash

If only we be­lieved in Ryan Pace as much as Pace be­lieves in Mitch Tru­bisky.

The Bears’ gen­eral man­ager de­serves credit for re­build­ing the fran­chise into a play­off con­tender vir­tu­ally from scratch in 2018 af­ter he ar­rived in 2015 — and re­ceived it in the form of Ex­ec­u­tive of the Year recog­ni­tion.

But when Pace talks about his quar­ter­backs, it’s a lit­tle chal­leng­ing to hang on ev­ery word. Af­ter he signed Mike Glen­non in free agency in 2017 and drafted Tru­bisky over De­shaun Wat­son and Pa­trick Ma­homes, ev­ery­thing sounds more like hope than gospel.

Be that as it may, Pace was res­o­lute that Tru­bisky was a de­serv­ing win­ner in the quar­ter­back com­pe­ti­tion with Nick Foles. The COVID-19 off­sea­son was the worst in foot­ball his­tory to have a quar­ter­back derby — a vir­tual off­sea­son pro­gram fol­lowed by an ab­bre­vi­ated train­ing camp with no pre­sea­son games. But Pace sees progress from a player who re­gressed last sea­son. Take his word for it. Or don’t.

“Mitch had a good camp — and tak­ing that into the reg­u­lar sea­son is ob­vi­ously the ob­jec­tive,” Pace said. “I think over­all, his de­ci­sion-mak­ing, we felt like that’s im­prov­ing. And as he builds, you feel his com­mand and com­fort level in the of­fense. That’s real.”

It re­mains to be seen how real it is. Tru­bisky doesn’t seem to have a prob­lem per­form­ing in the con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment of prac­tice. He’s a “reps guy” who stud­ies harder than any­one and aces the test on pa­per. Ap­ply­ing what he has learned in the real world has been a chal­lenge.

So take it for what it’s worth that Pace has seen that progress first­hand.

“When Matt [Nagy] would cre­ate dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions on of­fense,” Pace said, “whether it was two-minute or hurry-up or blitz pe­ri­ods, just how Mitch was han­dling that pres­sure I thought was im­pres­sive to see.

“The tempo he op­er­ated with, get­ting out of the hud­dle. The things he was do­ing off the field, in the meet­ing rooms, around his team­mates . . . I guess there’s just a feel of con­fi­dence and com­fort. I think it comes in Year 3 in this of­fense. I think com­pe­ti­tion brings the best out of every­body. And I think this com­pe­ti­tion brought the best out of him.”

Prais­ing a quar­ter­back for how he gets out of the hud­dle seems like a red flag, but per­haps that’s just a lack of foot­ball so­phis­ti­ca­tion on my part. But Pace pro­vided a num­ber of nar­ra­tives sup­port­ing a Tru­bisky emer­gence that seem du­bi­ous com­ing from Halas Hall:

“I think it comes in Year 3 of this of­fense.”

That could be right. It’s pos­si­ble ev­ery­thing comes to­gether for Nagy, the of­fense and Tru­bisky in Year 3. But usu­ally that kind of growth hap­pens when Year 2 was bet­ter than Year 1.

“I think com­pe­ti­tion brings the best out of every­body.”

To the naked eye, that de­cid­edly did not hap­pen in this train­ing camp. In fact, to am­a­teur ob­servers of prac­tice it was the op­po­site.

“I think both quar­ter­backs ben­e­fit­ted greatly from go­ing against our de­fense ev­ery day.”

That sounds so right but turned out to be so wrong last year that it’s a tough sell in 2020.

“We’ve added a lot of pieces around him that I think are gonna ben­e­fit [him] when you talk about what we’ve done at tight end and in the run game.”

Again, it sounds like a plan — what quar­ter­back in this of­fense (or any of­fense) hasn’t ben­e­fit­ted from pro­duc­tive tight ends and a run­ning game? Rookie Cole Kmet and veteran Jimmy Gra­ham up­grad­ing the tight end po­si­tion might be the surest thing to come out of train­ing camp. But even so, that’s a fa­mil­iar false pos­i­tive at Bears camp.

And al­ready the run­ning game is a ques­tion mark with David Mont­gomery re­cov­er­ing from a groin in­jury. There’s no in­di­ca­tion the of­fen­sive line will be bet­ter un­der line coach Juan Castillo.

“[There’s] just more of a fo­cused, cal­loused feel to him that I think you need to play quar­ter­back in this league.”

There’s lit­tle doubt that Tru­bisky de­vel­oped an edge last sea­son amid con­stant crit­i­cism of his play. But it never elicited the kind of laser fo­cus on the field that made him more pre­cise and ef­fi­cient. It didn’t el­e­vate the play of his team­mates.

Maybe that has changed. Pace is count­ing on it. He sees Tru­bisky as a changed man, a tal­ented young player who has emerged from a gaunt­let of tri­als stronger than he was be­fore.

“Just re­ally proud,” Pace said when asked about the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s be­lief in Tru­bisky. “If you put your­self in his shoes and the off­sea­son he had com­ing off last sea­son . . . There was a lot of blame to go around last year. Be­ing the quar­ter­back, he takes the brunt of a lot of that.

“Then we trade for a quar­ter­back and we don’t ex­er­cise the fifth-year op­tion and all th­ese things hap­pen — and the mo­ment he walked in the build­ing, you just felt a dif­fer­ent pres­ence and a dif­fer­ent mind­set. And that just car­ried him through­out camp. [I’m] just proud of the way he’s con­ducted him­self.”

Will it make a dif­fer­ence? Pace has plenty of valid rea­sons to think Tru­bisky will be bet­ter in 2020. But with all due re­spect, I ad­mire his faith more than I trust his judg­ment. Par­don me if I have to see it to be­lieve it.

AP

Ryan Pace said Mitch Tru­bisky showed bet­ter de­ci­sion-mak­ing and han­dled pres­sure bet­ter in camp.

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