With rookie Mitch Trubisky’s ascension as the Bears’ starting quarterback a virtual inevitability, the “Don’t count Mike Glennon out” contrarian story should be easy to write.
But, man, it is a tough one.
Almost every analysis of Glennon’s status seems to end with the same conclusion: How soon before the Bears kick-start their rebuild for real by starting Trubisky? Is it even possible for the Glennon story to end well? Is there any chance the Bears’ offense finds a groove — and the personnel — that allows Glennon to become the quarterback that general manager Ryan Pace envisioned?
Coach John Fox cautioned that it’s still early for Glennon — and it is — but it seems doubtful even at this early juncture. Glennon was a questionable free-agent signing in the first place, and fate has tied one hand behind his back. His top deep threat, Markus Wheaton, missed most of training camp and all of the preseason because of an appendectomy and a broken left pinkie. Cam Meredith, their top returning receiver, suffered a season-ending tear of his anterior cruciate ligament in the third preseason game. Kevin White, the best hope to develop into a No. 1 target, is on injured reserve with a broken shoulder blade.
And guard Kyle Long’s extended recovery from a severely broken ankle has complicated the situation on the offensive line. The Bears spent much of training camp with Hroniss Grasu at center and center Cody Whitehair at Long’s left guard spot — only to go with Tom Compton at left guard in the season opener. Even backup guard/center Eric Kush’s season-ending torn hamstring is a factor in Glennon’s plight. If Kush were healthy, he would have moved right into Long’s spot and the Bears would have had the same starting five offensive linemen throughout training camp and the preseason. Instead, continuity has been virtually nil, and the line play predictably uneven, in the first two games.
The Glennon signing now looks more dubious than ever because while Glennon might be as good as Pace expected with everything in order, he has shown no sign of being a quarterback who can do more with less.
“I think we still have a lot of confidence as an offense,” Glennon said last week. “We had a couple turnovers we have to eliminate, but other than that, we were moving the ball just fine.
“I don’t know how many times we punted [it was three], but it wasn’t many — it wasn’t for lack of moving the ball. It was turning the ball over. We’ll focus on eliminating those and build on the good things we did.”
You can’t blame Glennon for accentuating the positive, but that explanation didn’t fly even when Jay Cutler was saying it. Everybody thinks the Bears are close. And then comes Sunday.
It’s the same with Glennon as it was with Cutler — we’ll have to see it to believe it. And with Cutler, there was no better option to replace him (apologies to Josh McCown). With Glennon, there most definitely is.
So the next 12 days (the Steelers on Sunday and the Packers next Thursday night at Lambeau Field) could be crucial for Glennon — arguably his last, best chance to make 2017 his year. The returns of Long and Wheaton — both expected to play for the first time this season — could give Glennon and the offense the boost they badly need. Maybe the deep threat of Wheaton will be a dimension that opens things up for Jordan Howard and the running game, which opens things up for Kendall Wright and Josh Bellamy in the mid-range passing game. And maybe Glennon will get a fair chance to show us what Pace saw in him.
But the reality is that even then, all eyes still will be on Trubisky.
WHAT 2 WATCH 4
With the return of cornerback Prince Amukamara, the Bears’ secondary could be as strong as it has been in recent years. But Amukamara, Marcus Cooper, Kyle Fuller, et al., will have their hands full with Steelers All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown, who consistently produces and is capable of dominating.
Brown, who averaged 120 receptions for 1,579 yards and 11 touchdowns the previous four seasons, has 16 receptions for 244 yards (15.3-yard average) this season, but no touchdowns. He also has drawn 63 yards on two pass-interference penalties for a net of 18 receptions for 307 yards (17.1 average.).
“We’ll pay him some [special] attention, but you can’t do it all the time,” Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “We’re going to have to be able to stand up and cover him and play him without any special help some of the time.”
The Bears are 0-8 in September in three seasons under John Fox — a big reason why they have been in last place in the NFC North for 22 consecutive weeks (including 19 weeks alone in last place). The Steelers are 6-2 in September in that same span.
The Steelers have been vulnerable on the road but have won five consecutive road games — the third-longest active streak behind the Patriots (nine) and Chiefs (seven).
Running back Jordan Howard, who was second in the NFL in rushing last season with 1,313 yards (5.2 average), is off to a slow start this season, with 22 carries for 59 yards (2.7 average) and one touchdown. He gained seven yards on nine carries (0.8 average) against the Buccaneers last week.
“I would say it’s just different [from last year],” Howard said. “We have so many new pieces. But I don’t have any doubts about us putting it all together.”
Howard hasn’t had much of a chance to get anything going. And the emergence of Tarik Cohen as more than a third-down back has complicated matters. Eventually it could be a positive.
“Especially when he’s on the field,” Howard said, “they’ll be paying attention to him, so that could open things up for me as well.”
The Bears expect to regain three starters Sunday — guard Kyle Long (ankle), wide receiver Markus Wheaton (broken finger) and Amukamara.
All three figure to have some rust to shake off. Long has not played since he was injured last Nov. 13. Wheaton missed most of training camp and all of the preseason because of an appendectomy and the broken finger. Amukamara was injured early in the third preseason game against the Titans on Aug. 27. But at full strength, they should provide significant upgrades — particularly Long and Wheaton.
Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.