Adam L. Jahns “Inside the Huddle” column runs in game-day editions of the Sun-Times.
When rookie Mitch Trubisky was putting pressure on the Bears’ starting defense as the scout-team quarterback earlier this season, he of course had help. Somebody had to catch his pinpoint throws. And somebody had to get open for him when he scrambled.
As the Bears’ confidence in Trubisky grew as a result of his performances in practice, the same was true for his receivers, Tanner Gentry and Tre McBride.
“It’s always fun to catch passes from him and play,” Gentry said.
It’s important to have realistic expectations for Gentry, an undrafted rookie from Wyoming who already went through the waiver process, and McBride, a seventh-round pick of the Titans in 2015 who was claimed off waivers after the preseason. But there’s also optimism about what they can provide Trubisky right now. The Bears see them as young, emerging receivers who can make their prized quarterback more comfortable, starting Sunday against the Ravens.
Like receiver Cam Meredith — an undrafted steal from two years ago — Gentry and McBride are eager to prove themselves and shouldn’t be underestimated. Their snaps in practice were full-go against the defensive starters.
“They all are,” Gentry said. “Going against our starting defense, it’s good competition, and . . . a lot of teams run a lot of similar plays, so it was just enough opportunity to get better. We tried to relate what the other teams are running to what we run to try and make it like practice for us, too, so that we can get timing down and get the routes [in].”
Said McBride: “When you’re on the scout team, you’re going up against the No. 1s — the best players on our team and our defense. That’s really good work for players who they might feel like need development. When you get on a roll and get a rapport with your quarterback against the best look that you can get — period — then that translates even more to the game field. That’s really the biggest thing, that level of competition that we got to go up against on scout team. [It] really made this offensive transition that we’ve made a little bit easier.”
Against the Vikings, Trubisky clearly had faith in McBride, who made a diving 26-yard reception down the sideline on a sprint-out play to his right. It was called back because of center Cody Whitehair’s holding penalty.
Later, on a play-action bootleg by Trubisky, McBride made a diving 18-yard reception. Trubisky also attempted a deep throw to McBride in the second quarter, but McBride was penalized for offensive pass interference on a debatable call.
“Being on the scout team with Mitch from Day 1, [we] got an opportunity for us to build some chemistry because I wasn’t here in training camp with him,” said McBride, who played 70 percent of the Bears’ offensive snaps against the Vikings. “I got an opportunity to see how he spins it and get a feel for what he’s looking for in route-running. It was a great opportunity. I’m glad that I got a chance to do that, so when he did step in to be the starting quarterback, it wasn’t anything new to me.”
Gentry’s rapport with Trubisky dates backs to rookie minicamp in May. After an impressive training camp together, their connection produced a 45-yard touchdown against the Titans in the Bears’ third preseason game.
The Bears certainly have plans for Gentry, who displayed his big-play ability throughout camp. He was promoted to the active roster before Markus Wheaton suffered his groin injury.
“Tanner’s a great player,” Trubisky said. “He knows how to go up and get the ball. He’s a good vertical threat and has shown what he can do.”
Members of the offense are learning what Trubisky likes to do on the move.
But Gentry and McBride already know what he likes. McBride’s goal is to make eye contact.
“Usually, if I catch eyes with him, I already know it’s coming,” McBride said. “And because he’s on a roll and because he has such a zip, I’m prepared for it to hit me right here in the chest — in the money spot.
“But just in case, I’m prepared to make a diving one. I know that when he gets on the run, he throws it so fast and he puts it in a place where a [defensive back] can’t make the play. That might mean that I need to go and make a play.”
Gentry and McBride know that producing in practice isn’t the same as doing it on game day. But it does give them a base to build upon.
“We just were confident that our times were going to come, and we just tried to stay patient,” Gentry said. “It’s definitely exciting now that we get the opportunity to do it on the big stage.”
Follow me on Twitter @adamjahns.
@chbullssoxbears: Even though the Bears are in a “rebuild,” what are the odds they look to the trade market for [wide receiver] help before the deadline?
A: The trade deadline is 3 p.m. on Halloween, but I don’t know what tricks the Bears can pull off to land any treats at receiver. I definitely can’t envision general manager Ryan Pace parting with high-round picks. As you said, the Bears are rebuilding, and that will be done through the draft. Receiver, though, will be an offseason priority that starts with adding younger depth through free agency. The Dolphins’ Jarvis Landry is in the final year of his rookie contract. Interestingly enough, Alshon Jeffery -— who left the Bears for a one-year, incentive-laden deal with the Eagles — might be the best receiver on the market.
@patrickbousky: Who, in your opinion, has been most disappointing this season of the 2nd and 3rd-year players Pace has drafted? No picking Kevin White!
A: Center Cody Whitehair, though he has looked like a dominant interior offensive lineman at times this year. But that’s after the snap. His actual snapping has become disconcerting — he has been inaccurate and inconsistent since camp opened. This is only his second season playing center, and he was moved around too much in camp and the preseason. He also played all three interior positions in Week 2. That versatility helps the Bears deal with injuries, but the lack of consistency hurts, too. All that said, Whitehair still is a very promising, cornerstore young player for this team.
The Bears are one of three teams — along with the Dolphins and Raiders — that haven’t made an interception after five weeks this season.
“It’s frustrating, obviously,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said of the lack of takeaways. “We’d like to get them. We need them as a team.
“It would help everybody if we could get some, especially if we can get them where it turns the field around and we can give a short field to our offense.”
Last year, the Bears tied a franchise low with 16 takeaways. Nothing has changed this season despite an overhaul of the secondary. They’re currently last in the NFL in turnover ratio at minus-9.
They’ll have their chances to improve that margin Sunday against Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who already has a pair of two-interception games this season and has thrown six interceptions overall.
But the issue is the Bears have yet to show that they can make the plays even when they come directly to them. Linebacker Christian Jones and safety Adrian Amos had prime chances to make interceptions Monday night against the Vikings and couldn’t pull it off.
Do the Bears feel close?
“I hope so,” Fangio said. “We need them. [We’re] doing a lot of good things, but we’re not getting the ball taken away. When we get close, we’ve got to take advantage of our opportunities.”
Bullish on Bullard
Second-year defensive end Jonathan Bullard hasn’t come up with the splash plays that he was making in the preseason and training camp.
But Fangio remains happy with Bullard, a third-round pick in 2016 who has played only 35 of the Bears’ 125 defensive snaps over the last two weeks.
“He hasn’t had quite as many reps as he would like,” Fangio said, “but we’re not discouraged by his play.”