The first upset of the Bears season came Wednesday, when coach John Fox announced that rookie Mitch Trubisky — the most popular guy in town no matter where he is on the roster — would be the No. 2 quarterback for Sunday’s regular-season opener against the Falcons.
Not that Trubisky isn’t the second-best quarterback on the Bears. He might be the best. But most figured the Bears would go with veteran Mark Sanchez as Mike Glennon’s back-up — figuring he might be a better option to be thrown to the wolves in the middle of a game. That could have created an unusual — but not unworkable — set-up, where Sanchez was the No. 2 on game day, but Trubisky would be the option to replace Glennon as the starter if Glennon were injured or really bad. It’s kind of like Justin Grimm replacing Jake Arrieta in the middle of a game on Monday, but Mike Montgomery taking his place in the rotation.
Instead, the Bears went right to Trubisky as the No. 2 guy — a sign of their confidence in the preparedness of a rookie who was struggled with the snap from center and “identifying the Mike” in training camp. Most significantly, the Bears know Trubisky will make mistakes if he’s in there, but will grow from the experience.
“There’s going to be adjustments within the game,” general manager Ryan Pace said Wednesday. “There’s going to be new defensive schemes and blitz packages and coverages and every one of these moments is a learning experience for him, which he’s shown he takes advantage of.”
“Which he’s shown he takes advantage of,” seems to be an acknowledgement that the Bears, who once wanted to keep Trubisky in bubble wrap this season, now know what they have. Or think they know what they have — a quarterback who will learn from his mistakes and not get ruined by them.
Jay Cutler wasn’t wrong to warn against playing the kid too soon. “”If it’s going downhill, there is no way I’m playing him,” Cutler said on the Silvy & Waddle Show on ESPN 1000 in May. “For what? So he can go out there and take a beating and get off to a rough start as an NFL quarterback?”
He still could be right. But Trubisky seems to have risen above that concern in the preseason. You can find examples to support any opinion on whether Trubisky should play or not. There are plenty of first-round rookies whose career track has been altered by playing too soon and/or getting their brains beat in. And there are rookies like Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott, who have thrived in advantageous situations.
A year ago, Eagles rookie Carson Wentz had played almost exclusively against FCS opponents in college and threw just 24 passes in the preseason when he was promoted to the starting position in Week 1 after the Eagles traded Sam Bradford to the Vikings. Wentz started 3-0 — beating the Bears in Week 2 — with three touchdown passes, no interceptions and a 97.2 rating in his first three games. He was pretty average from there, going 13-14 as his season rating dropped to a below-average 79.3 — and still a long way from proving himself as a franchise quarterback.
Trubisky has started just 13 games at North Carolina, but that inexperience doesn’t appear to be the detriment it once appeared to be. The kid has shown some moxie and a knack for using his feet and accuracy on the run to turn trouble into opportunity — arguably the most lethal asset in the game today.
What it comes down to is the judgment and intuition of Pace, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone and Fox that Trubisky is a guy who will thrive through adversity rather than wilt. Every situation is different. The Bears could have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL this season. If Kyle Long can’t play, it could be average. The wide receiver corps is unimpressive, but if tight ends Zach Miller and Adam Shaheen and running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen are as productive in the passing game as they potentially are, and Kevin White finally becomes the player the Bears expect, the Bears quarterback could have more options than it appears right now.
Circumstances can change and a quarterback like Trubisky can alter the dynamic of a football team. It’s time to let it play out. But for now, the Bears seem to be doing this right. Trubisky was the story Wednesday. But he’s still not the starter.
“Mike Glennon’s our starter,” Pace said when asked if he’s now OK with Trubisky playing this season. “We’re not going to deal in hypotheticals. But there’s a plan in place for [Trubisky’s] development, which is being executed. And I think Fox and Dowell and Ragone have done an unbelievable job with it. I’m just proud of where Mitch is right now and just him continuing that progress.”
Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash