We have two colliding truths in the Bears’ decision not to play their starters Saturday.
One is that preseason games don’t matter, have never mattered and, as long as there is heat, humidity, the possibility of injury and the existence of fourth-stringers, won’t ever matter.
The other is that Mitch Trubisky has done nothing to prove he doesn’t need as many snaps as he can get, even if those snaps come against a high school team in a parking lot at midnight.
The second truth just tackled the first truth for a five-yard loss.
Trubisky started 13 games in college and 12 last season as a Bears rookie. In those 12 games under John Fox, he played in such a remedial, low-risk offense that he might as well have played in a fallout shelter.
Add to that the purportedly complex offense that new coach Matt Nagy has brought to the Bears, and the need for as much work as possible becomes more pressing. Lest we forget, it was Trubisky who said recently that every snap, practice and game matters.
But there the quarterback was Saturday, standing on the sideline and cheering for his teammates as they battled the Chiefs at Soldier Field.
Has anyone seen Trubisky look anything close to dominant since he arrived last year? Lots of people view him as the Bears’ franchise quarterback, but that has been more warm thought than fact. You say he’s young and to give him time. Yet that’s the exact argument for why he should have played against the Chiefs on Saturday. He needs time and experience to get better. He needs more work, not less, before the Bears’ opener in Green Bay on Sept. 9. He needs the 25 to 30 snaps he should have gotten Saturday.
“I feel strongly that when we go into Week 1 that basically those 25-30 plays, it’s not going to sway it one way or the other,” Nagy said. “It’s really not. So if we win that game against Green Bay, trust me, it wasn’t because we didn’t play 25. And if we lose, it’s the same thing. I promise you that.”
It has been a long training camp, and Nagy said Trubisky has taken lots of snaps in practice. But can we agree that game snaps are different and often more valuable than practice snaps? Can we also agree that the Bears are treating their quarterback as if he’s an established player in the NFL when he’s not?
Nagy’s defenders will say that the Packers rested Aaron Rodgers on Friday night. Trubisky isn’t Rodgers in anybody’s world.
But what if Trubisky had gotten knocked out for the season because of an injury suffered in a meaningless game Saturday? It’s a legitimate question and part of the reason he and the other starters didn’t play against Kansas City. But applying the same logic, the Bears should have kept him out of all the preseason games. And bubble-wrapped him for the first six games of the regular season.
Chiefs starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who, along with Trubisky, was a 2017 first-round pick, played into the third quarter Saturday. If Tom Brady can play in his team’s third preseason game, as he did Friday, then Trubisky should play in any game anywhere.
And Bears wide receiver Kevin White, Mr. Injury himself, played Saturday and the starters didn’t? My head is spinning.
I get it: Live to fight another day, and all that. But Nagy seems to be in love with the idea of a great quarterback, rather than the reality of a quarterback who needs as much game action as he can get. Trubisky might be excellent some day, but he’s not there yet.
“This is going to take a little bit of time,” Nagy said of the offense. “This isn’t something that’s just going to come out here and start firing away. I told you that from the start. This is a process now. That’s OK. That’s no excuse, but that’s what’s real.’’
Which is precisely why Trubisky and the offense should have played Saturday.
The big-picture discussion is the very existence of preseason games. The more immediate discussion is that if the Bears and Trubisky stink it up against the Packers in the opener, you wouldn’t want to have the surname Nagy in Chicago the next day. The coach has opened himself up to the possibility of the kind of abuse normally reserved for toppled Stalin statues.
On the first day of training camp, Nagy told the media he wanted his team to go into the regular season “callused.’’ His decision to rest the starters Saturday gave the impression that his players were smoothed skinned enough to be hand models.
“I think we’ve gotten callused, I truly do,’’ he said. “We’ve had a lot of practices. We’ve had some grueling practices against Denver, some live reps in our last couple preseason games. If you remember correctly, I told you we’ll be callused, but we’ll be smart too.’’
Football people call the third preseason game the “dress rehearsal’’ for the regular season. Starters usually play into the third quarter and then take the final preseason game off. Because the Bears played an extra exhibition game, against Baltimore in the Hall of Fame Game, they and the Ravens have had one more week of practice than other teams. Nagy’s argument is that those practices were enough to make Saturday’s game unnecessary for the starters.
He’ll be right if Trubisky plays well in Green Bay. He’ll be really wrong if Trubisky plays poorly.