Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky is expected to start against the Saints on Sunday after missing most of the last two games with a shoulder injury, but don’t expect too much too soon.
If we’ve learned anything about Trubisky in his three years with the Bears, it’s that he’s not a natural. He’s a “reps guy” who needs to be fully warmed up before he gets in a groove. He can’t jump out of bed and throw for 300 yards and four touchdowns.
The only question is how long will it take? Even against the Dolphins last year after the bye, Trubisky — coming off a six-touchdown game against the Buccaneers — threw for 89 yards, no touchdowns and an 82.1 rating in the first half. He warmed up in the second half and finished with 316 yards, three touchdown passes and a 122.5 rating in the 31-28 overtime loss.
On Sunday, he’ll not only be coming off the bye, but a three-week absence since suffering a left shoulder injury against the Vikings on Sept. 29. And it remains to be seen just how efficient he’ll be.
Last season, he was notably unproductive against the Rams — 16-for-30 for 110 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions and a rating of 33.3 — after missing the previous two games.
Asked whether rust or the Rams’ defense was the bigger factor in Trubisky’s poor performance, coach Matt Nagy predictably said “probably a little of both.” But he unpredictably added a third factor — Trubisky’s own mindset, and acknowledged that rectifying that issue is a concern heading into this game.
“We’ve been through this before,” Nagy said Friday after practice. “We want to make sure, because of the results of what happened last year in that game — how do we prevent that really from happening again? And that’s the mental side.
“Was he so focused on rehabbing back that it took away from the mental part of the game? Or was it just the game? That’s where we need to collaborate here in the next 24-48 hours and say, ‘We feel good.’ Because if we feel good about it and we want to do it, there’s no looking back.”
It will be interesting to see what happens, because if Trubisky continues to struggle to reach that next level, the mental part of his game is the next culprit. After starting 12 games under difficult circumstances as a rookie under John Fox, the Bears have surrounded Trubisky with coaching, upgraded weapons and technology to create a comfort zone that gives him the best chance to succeed. At some point the question will be whether he has the mental fortitude to make it work.
Trubisky is aware of the importance of that factor, which was apparent when he was asked about the frustration of getting injured right after his three-touchdown game against the Redskins:
“It’s all part of the mental game,” he said. “You feel good. You kind of felt like it was a turning point for me and the offense to hopefully jump-start into the Vikings game. And then six plays into it you come out.
“It’s definitely frustrating, but you go back to how I prepared mentally to go into that Washington game and try to get back to that mindset and practice with the guys and fly around and just do my job. It’s a big part of the mental game, and you’ve just gotta prepare mentally to do your job and be in the right mindset to make plays for your team.”
In that respect, the mental aspect is like every other facet of playing quarterback for Trubisky. He knows what he has to do. Now he just has to do it.