In draft lead-up, Trubisky covering all bases
IRVINE, CALIF. Tucked away in an unassuming corporate park, one of the quarterbacks NFL teams are buzzing about most is set to get grilled.
He knocks on the door of a small conference room. The man who greets him, quarterbacks coach Ryan Lindley, knows him quite well. They’ve trained together for two months.
The player introduces himself, anyway.
“Mitchell Trubisky,” he says in between a handshake. “Nice to meet you.”
Rep 1 Sports, the agency that represents the former University of North Carolina quarterback, invited USA TODAY Sports to get an all-access glimpse late last week of how Trubisky wrapped up his preparation for the NFL scouting combine, which begins this week in Indianapolis. Revealed was a taxing grind of on-field workouts, weight training sessions, media training, psychological tests and film study.
But most significant is what’s about to happen in this room. It mimics the 15-minute, speeddating-like sessions he’ll face this week at the combine, where teams will crowd a hotel room with coaches, executives and scouts for the most uncomfort--
able job interview in the NFL.
Trubisky is given a laminated sheet with six plays he has never seen. He is asked to digest and memorize two, though he’s not given the luxury of studying them in silence. The firing squad shoots its questions. How many touchdowns did you throw this year? “Uh, 30.” Interceptions? “Six.” Trubisky has run through numerous practice interviews like this one. Before they had all been with one or two others present.
Now 13 others cram into the room. Two of his agents, Ryan Tollner and Chase Callahan, join Lindley in peppering him with questions. The others are a former client and Trubisky’s peers — prospects with whom he has been training since January.
It adds to the awkwardness. But that’s exactly the idea. What about in your career? “I’m not sure, off the top of my head.” It’s only 13 games you’ve started.
Trubisky doesn’t bite. These interviews are designed to throw prospects off, make them uncomfortable, challenge their football knowledge, address their weaknesses and failures, reveal red flags. Trubisky’s eyes remain glued to the play sheet in front of him. Who did we fight in World War II?
Trubisky can’t help it. He looks up with a confused smile.
“World War II? The Germans. The Nazis.” So you’re a history buff, huh? Pretty good. A few chuckles cut the silence. So the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? No answer. Trubisky doesn’t even look up from the plays he knows he’ll have to recall later. Callahan scribbles notes on a yellow legal pad. Who bombed Pearl Harbor? “The Japanese.” I thought we fought the Germans.
By this point, it’s worth noting, only 1 minute and 27 seconds have passed. Lindley takes away the play sheet. “That’s enough,” he says. History wouldn’t be the last at-
tempt at misdirection, or even the most uncomfortable question to answer. Later in the interview, Tollner dropped this on him: Mitch, you’re out with your Oline, do you prefer beer or liquor?
“Uh, I’ll have a few beers every once in a while with my O-line. That’s just something we like to do when we always get together. I think it’s good for team chemistry being around your boys and having a good time. But I know my limits, and I know how to be smart. I was all season long, and football is always the No. 1 priority.”
The unexpectedness of that question might briefly throw Trubisky off his rhythm. That’s the point.
That’s simple, compared with what lurks. It’s the one question Trubisky knows he’ll get asked the most this week and the one that will define how he performs at the combine.
TOUGH QUESTIONS AHEAD
Why were you only a one-year starter?
“I initially won the backup role as a redshirt freshman,” he tells the conference room. “The fifthyear senior got hurt, and they decided to keep my redshirt. And then the following two years, we competed for the job. I felt deep down that I was the best quarterback, and I just wasn’t chosen for the starting job. I didn’t like the role I was given, but I embraced it. I found ways to get better and I found ways to help my team.” That answer plays well. To be clear, it’s perfectly scripted. They all are. Trubisky’s agents have put him through dozens of sessions like this, grading his answers and offering better ones when he trips up. Aside from the medical testing at the combine, the team interview sessions are most valuable.
Trubisky walks out of the room and is pleased. A few prolonged, awkward pauses, but these interviews set the prospects up for failure. How they respond is what matters.
One day later, Trubisky is off. It’s Saturday, and the office is nearly empty, a shell of what it was the two days before.
The same question comes up. He’s asked one more time to reflect on how he did it, how he went from a near-transfer, to a one-year starter, to — now — a potential franchise quarterback.
“It just confirmed to me that anything is possible, even in your darkest hour,” Trubisky says. “If you would’ve told me that as a redshirt freshman, when I wasn’t playing, that I was going to be a first-round draft pick after one year of starting, I would say you’re crazy. But now I’m sitting here — I’m confident that’s about to happen.
“It gives me confidence. It increases my drive and passion for this game — why can’t I win a Super Bowl in three years? I was just at my lowest point, and just three years later, I’m seeing the benefits from it. So why don’t I work that much harder, care that much more, put in the hours for the people around me — why can’t I reach my next dream?”
He went to North Carolina after he was named Mr. Football in Ohio. He went 30-8 at Mentor High School, just outside of Cleveland, and is in the state’s Top 10 in career passing yards with 9,126.
But he couldn’t beat out incumbent Marquise Williams at North Carolina for two years.
“It sucked,” Trubisky said. “It really sucked.”
He considered transferring, and, if not for his roommates, he MIGHT have. Over late-night talks in their dorm, they persuaded him to stay. They told him to keep grinding, that his time would come.
And when it eventually did, he led the Tar Heels to an 8-5 record, threw his way to single-season program records for passing yards (3,748), touchdowns (30) and total offense (4,056), and then declared for the draft as a redshirt junior.
GETTING GOOD ADVICE The most invaluable benefit for Trubisky and other prospects here might be the experience coming through the door.
The agency represents quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jared Goff of the Los Angeles Rams, Carson Wentz of the Philadelphia Eagles, Marcus Mariota of the Tennessee Titans and Blake Bortles of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Roethlisberger and Goff have been here, and Wentz took Trubisky out to a steak dinner two nights before his mock interview.
Wentz detailed his path from Football Championship Subdivision North Dakota State and recalled questions he faced at the combine. He provided a blueprint for how to get through Indianapolis unscathed.
After Trubisky withstood the mock interview Friday, Tollner popped out of the room and filled Wentz in on how Trubisky tested.
“So Carson said there was this one coach, an offensive coordinator, who really got after him in one of his interviews,” Tollner said upon returning. “This guy said Carson didn’t play anyone at NDSU, and it was all done to belittle him.
“Some of these people are going to do that. They’re going to try to fluster you and piss you off. Carson wanted to punch him in the face.”
NO DETAILS OVERLOOKED Interview prep, however, is just one part of the gig.
Trubisky has taken practice Wonderlic exams, a 12-minute, 50-question test answered on bubble sheets to determine cognitive ability. He scored 37 out of 50, a pretty good result.
He watched film of the news conferences Wentz and Goff conducted while they were prospects in Indy to see what it was like to face the media.
He has a binder with the names and faces of all the coaches and executives from each team. At his apartment later, he flipped through and tried to memorize as many as he could.
He reviewed the film of every snap from his final season at North Carolina.
Before he was set to conduct a one-on-one mock interview session Thursday, Trubisky walked into the conference room several minutes early to watch film of Marcus Mariota’s combine workout one more time.
“At this point, I know there’s nothing that I’ll get tested on that I haven’t already seen here,” Trubisky said.
Early Friday morning, the prospects flocked 12 miles east to Santa Margarita Catholic High School for a 2-hour, 39-minute on-field session. There, Trubisky honed his speed training and footwork with Nike director of performance Ryan Flaherty. With the combine days away, it’s all about details: hand placement, posture, breathing.
Trubisky said he would run through every test at the combine, except the bench press.
There are certain numbers he wants to hit, too: mainly, around 4.7 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
And then there was actual football. Trubisky fired pass after pass, about 45 in all, making crisp throws to receivers who ran routes he will be tested Saturday in Indianapolis at the combine.
Later that afternoon, after a stop at a juice bar and a recovery physical therapy session, Trubisky ripped through feet-elevated pushups, pullups, triceps work with resistance bands and core strengthening in a 1-hour, 22-minute weight training session. Flaherty called it a “maintenance lift” designed to taper off the two months of training to keep their bodies active but not overdo it.
“I feel really good,” Trubisky said. “I’m not nervous. I just want it to get here. I’m ready to kill it.”
Mitch Trubisky could be the first quarterback drafted.
“There’s nothing that I’ll get tested on that I haven’t already seen,” Mitch Trubisky said of his preparation for the combine.