Mitch Trubisky likes to do the drawing himself.
When he’s alone in a Halas Hall meeting room with quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone, he’ll sketch out a play, with all 11 offensive and defensive players in proper position, and try to detail each movement to Ragone.
“If you can explain something complicated simply,” Trubisky told the Sun-Times, “then you know it.”
When he’s alone, Trubisky writes each play on a flash card. On one side is the drawing. On the other is language he’s been tasked with learning since the Bears hired head coach Matt Nagy in January — a run-on sentence, as long as 16 words, detailing the personnel grouping, formation and play.
“Quarterback play is how fast you can process,” Trubisky said. “A lot of that is recollection. That’s exactly what flash cards are.”
The Bears spent their offseason program force-feeding Trubisky the new playbook, seeing what he could handle, and were pleased by the outcome. Training camp will be all about fine-tuning. Quarterbacks and rookies arrived at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais on Monday, ahead of the official reporting date Thursday.
Trubisky’s success — and that of the offense Nagy was hired to drag into the 21st century — will start with how the second-year quarterback can process those 16-word play calls.
“You’re trying to learn and memorize,” he said, “and to try to forget what you did in the past.”
Nagy’s offense, he said, makes more sense than that of former offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, which Trubisky ran as a rookie.
“It’s more complex, but it’s easier [to execute], as opposed to simpler but more difficult,” Trubisky said. “That’s how I would describe it last year. Last year, there were probably less words, but they didn’t necessarily fit together. Or it was just more difficult to process. This year, it’s more complex but it’s easier to execute and memorize and remember because everything builds on something. You start with a base concept, and it gets more and more complicated.”
Trubisky, who took Spanish at Mentor (Ohio) High School and, out of curiosity, Portuguese at North Carolina, compared the terminology to learning a foreign language. Sentences gain meaning when vocabulary words are linked with verbs.
Nagy, Ragone and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich taught the scheme with a logical progression. Trubisky knew he was being challenged and wanted more information.
“I kept telling them, ‘Let’s keep going until we can’t handle it,’ ” he said. “But it was amazing — we could handle it the whole time.
“It’s just crazy to see. I feel like that’s how it should be done, because it’s a more advanced offense, but we were able to pick it up so quickly over the summer because of how they taught it. And how everything fits together.”
Trubisky hesitates to give specific examples of terminology but stressed that Nagy, the former Chiefs offensive coordinator, has created a playbook that’s unique to the Bears. Many of the concepts remain the same as the Chiefs’, as evidenced by the Bears’ signing of two former Chiefs backup QBs, Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray, who spent a combined nine years running the hybrid West Coast-spread offense. They will serve as Trubisky’s support system, helping him learn, call and execute the plays.
Daniel said the Bears installed 10 times more plays in their offseason program than when Nagy helped first-year Chiefs head coach Andy Reid teach his offense in 2013. The Bears asked Trubisky to run the same play two or three times in the same day — out of different formations and against different defenses. When Trubisky asked why, the backup quarterbacks explained how essential it was to get their basic plays right.
“Listen,” Daniel said, “when [the Bears] traded a lot of picks last year up to No. 2 to get him, [general manager] Ryan [Pace] was convinced — this organization was convinced — that Mitch was their guy. And I think that Mitch is the guy. Once you have that conviction, you’ve got to go about building the franchise around the guy.”
Bray said it took him three full years as a backup to be confident he knew every detail of the plays he rattled off in the huddle.
Trubisky doesn’t have that kind of time.
“It’s not going to be easy,” Bray said. “You’re not going to go out there and have the Tom Brady, Peyton Manning knowledge with the system.
“Mitch has a grasp of it. He knows concepts — what we’re trying to do with the offense against certain defensive looks. He’s a little further along than I was in Year 1.”
Last year, Trubisky’s teammates could sense when something wasn’t right. When he’d stumble over verbiage as a rookie, or recite a call meekly in the huddle, the play would fail. That was one of the biggest lessons Trubisky said he learned in his first year: the value of communication, and of confidence.
“You’ve just got to believe in what you’re doing,” he said. “The way you say the play-call in the huddle is going to determine how well your guys run it. If you believe in the play call — ‘OK, this is what we’re running right here’ — the guys will go out and execute it. You have to believe in it with a lot of passion. Assertiveness. Say it with confidence. If you know it fast, if you spit it out, that shows confidence.”
The key, he said, is eliminating doubt is his teammate’s minds.
“And,” he said, “the play clock is running.”
During games, Trubisky will be fed the plays via a speaker in his helmet, but the microphone cuts off with 15 seconds left on the play clock. The margin of error, then, is as thin as Trubisky’s flash cards.
“It’s a new language,” Ragone said. “What he’s done a tremendous job of is going in and understanding that from the first time he’s heard everything. From how we get in a huddle to how we call a play, he’s taken it on a blank canvas and he’s kind of run with it. He’s done a really good job of embracing, ‘This is the language we speak, and I’m going to speak it at all times.’ ”
Trubisky is clear there’s no comparing his second season to his rookie year. He knows what to expect now, even if the words are different.
“Everything goes back to communication,” he said. “If everyone’s speaking the same language and using those key words, then we’re able to play faster and be on the same page.”
He knows he has room to grow, but no words to qualify what he has yet to learn.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I guess you’ll only know when you look back.”