In charge be­fore the snap

Tru­bisky grows into role; Miller on the up­swing, Leno fix­ing prob­lems

Daily Southtown - - SCOREBOARD - By Rich Camp­bell and Colleen Kane rcamp­bell@chicagotri­bune.com Twit­ter @Rich_Camp­bell ck­ane@chicagotri­bune.com Twit­ter @ChiTribKane

If there were a col­umn in ev­ery box score for the num­ber of times Mitch Tru­bisky suc­cess­fully com­manded his pre-snap check­list on a play, then Bears quar­ter­backs coach Dave Ragone would have an eas­ier time get­ting his point across.

For starters, let it be known Ragone un­der­stands and ac­cepts the fact Tru­bisky will be judged on re­sults. From an er­rant in­ter­cep­tion like the one he threw in Sun­day’s blowout of the Bills, to the bril­liant back-shoul­der touch­down he threw two games ago to help beat the Jets, the out­come ev­ery time he drops back shapes out­siders’ opin­ions of his progress.

But as Ragone at­tends to the minu­tiae of Tru­bisky’s de­vel­op­ment on a minute-tominute ba­sis, he is op­ti­mistic about the quar­ter­back’s tra­jec­tory at the mid­point of the first sea­son in coach Matt Nagy’s of­fense.

His sat­is­fac­tion is rooted in el­e­ments hid­den from any­one who hasn’t stud­ied the Bears play­book and all the de­ci­sions the quar­ter­back must ac­count for on each play.

Specif­i­cally, Ragone sees sig­nif­i­cant growth in Tru­bisky’s abil­ity to iden­tify el­e­ments the of­fense re­quires him to iden­tify, such as the po­si­tion­ing of a safety against a cer­tain for­ma­tion, the depth of a corner­back over a cer­tain re­ceiver, or how a line­backer is aligned on a cer­tain dow­nand-dis­tance.

“Where he goes pre-snap with his eyes, and then post-snap ex­actly where his eyes go — his eyes are so im­por­tant to ev­ery­thing he does,” Ragone said Mon­day. “All those things, to me, are built within a foun­da­tion for him that can carry on not just for the rest of this year but through­out his ca­reer.”

How should out­siders know whether Tru­bisky is get­ting it right? Well, the re­sult of the play is of­ten a true in­di­ca­tion. But Ragone dis­tin­guishes between the process that leads to each throw and the re­sult of the play be­cause it’s the pre-throw foun­da­tion that makes suc­cess re­peat­able as Tru­bisky con­tin­ues to build ex­pe­ri­ence.

Ragone, who was Tru­bisky’s po­si­tion coach last sea­son as a rookie, con­stantly preaches how im­por­tant it is for him to have con­vic­tion in his de­ci­sions. Lis­ten to Ragone dis­cuss Tru­bisky’s de­vel­op­ment for 10 min­utes and you’ll hear “con­vic­tion” a dozen times.

“There’s a chance you might not be right,” Ragone said, “but (make sure) there’s con­vic­tion with your throw, your foot­work, your eyes. And then we’ll fix it if it’s wrong. If it’s right, you build on it and build a habit.”

To that end, Ragone senses grow­ing con­vic­tion and a strength­ened foun­da­tion. He said Tru­bisky’s pre-snap com­mand is “night and day” bet­ter than it was a month ago, point­ing to the three third-down con­ver­sions in the first half Sun­day as the most re­cent ex­am­ples.

“He’s a smart player for how young he is and where he is in his ca­reer,” Ragone said. “He’s re­ally ma­ture in a lot of those as­pects. I do think he’s trend­ing up­ward, for sure.”

Here are four other things we heard Mon­day from Bears of­fen­sive as­sis­tant coaches:

For rookie slot re­ceiver An­thony Miller, the men­tal side of his NFL tran­si­tion is catch­ing up to the phys­i­cal side, re­ceivers coach Mike Fur­rey said.

“He’s got it phys­i­cally; we all know that,” Fur­rey said. “From the men­tal as­pect of just un­der­stand­ing the con­cept of our schemes, un­der­stand­ing de­fenses, un­der­stand­ing holes (in zones), how to slow down against cer­tain cov­er­ages and all that good stuff, it’s start­ing to slow down. The game is start­ing to slow down for him.

Miller’s three touch­down catches are tied for sec­ond most in the NFL among rook­ies be­hind Calvin Ri­d­ley’s seven for the Fal­cons. Fur­rey sees up­side be­yond that be­cause of how Miller is ap­ply­ing his ex­pand­ing knowl­edge of the NFL.

“He’s in the film room more be­cause he can un­der­stand it now,” Fur­rey said. “He can study the op­po­nents. He can know if it’s sin­gle-high or if it’s shell and all that good stuff that helps you out and gives you a tid­bit here be­fore you start (the play).”

Ragone’s two fa­vorite throws by Tru­bisky through eight games are the 14-yard cor­ner route touch­down to Allen Robin­son in the Week 4 win over the Buc­ca­neers and the 4-yard back­shoul­der touch­down to Miller against the Jets.

On the touch­down to Robin­son, Tru­bisky rec­og­nized man-to-man cov­er­age and an­tic­i­pated Robin­son sep­a­rat­ing from the de­fender. The ball was thrown be­fore Robin­son was out of his break, a sign of the con­vic­tion Tru­bisky had in what he saw and the trust he con­tin­ues to de­velop with Robin­son.

As for the back-shoul­der throw to Miller, Tru­bisky mas­tered ev­ery­thing be­fore and af­ter the snap to pro­duce a spe­cial re­sult. Rec­og­niz­ing the cov­er­age and chang­ing Miller’s route, then plac­ing the throw away from the drop­ping de­fender where Miller could turn back for it.

“The quar­ter­backs that don’t just ex­tend plays but make guys bet­ter around them are the ones that throw guys open,” Ragone said. “We needed that touch­down, and he made that throw — a throw he’s been talk­ing about mak­ing. My thing with him is it’s one thing to talk about it, one thing to drill it. To do it (in a game), that’s the true val­i­da­tion.”

Of­fen­sive line coach Harry Hi­e­s­tand said left tackle Charles Leno’s three false-start penal­ties Sun­day against the Bills were un­char­ac­ter­is­tic and promised “we’ll get it un­der con­trol be­cause he’ll look at it.”

Leno’s penal­ties all came in the first half, in­clud­ing back-to-back penal­ties on the Bears’ sec­ond drive of the game. They were the only penal­ties against Leno this year.

“They all weren’t his fault,” Hi­e­s­tand said. “A cou­ple of them were. One was just get­ting the cen­ter and him on the same page. … It’s not be­cause he’s not fo­cused and not try­ing. He’s giv­ing his best ef­fort. You line up against re­ally good play­ers, and you have to be at your best on the snap of the ball.

“It’s one of the hard­est things in sports, to be hon­est with you. The crowd noise for a tackle against a wide rusher in the NFL is one of the big­gest chal­lenges. When you’re one-on-one, it can get you a lit­tle bit hy­per. You just move the pin a lit­tle early.”

Hi­e­s­tand cred­ited Nagy’s play call on Jor­dan Howard’s 18-yard touch­down run Sun­day against the Bills.

Rookie guard James Daniels darted over from the left side to the right to block Bills de­fen­sive tackle Kyle Wil­liams. Howard scooted through the hole Daniels opened, left one de­fender div­ing at his feet and flat­tened safety Jor­dan Poyer to get into the end zone.

“It was a trap play, and he had the feel­ing when he hit it, and the guys just ex­e­cuted,” Hi­e­s­tand said. “They’re a pen­e­trat­ing, pack­ing de­fense, so it was a great call by coach at that mo­ment.”

BRIAN CASSELLA/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

Bears quar­ter­back Mitch Tru­bisky scram­bles away from Bills de­fen­sive end Jerry Hughes.

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