Time already running out for QB Mitch Trubisky to convince Bears

Quarterbacks used to get a few years to develop, but in the modern pass-happy NFL, the good ones usually prove it quickly.

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Mitch Trubisky’s 85.5 career passer rating is better than Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford and Donovan McNabb in their first three seasons.

Paul Sancya/AP

DETROIT — Bears coach Matt Nagy loves the story of Alex Smith.

He loves Smith, of course, because he coached him in Kansas City for five years, and he sees his career arc as a parable for quarterbacks who aren’t instant hits. It’s especially encouraging as he works through Mitch Trubisky’s drawn-out development.

Smith was the No. 1 overall pick in 2005 and meandered for six years because of injury and poor play before his career turned. He became serviceable at 27 and was decent or better until he broke his right leg in 2018. He picked up the Chiefs’ offense quickly and made the Pro Bowl three times under Nagy, Doug Pederson and Andy Reid.

“There were still some rough patches early on,” Nagy said. “After a couple of years, we really started clicking.”

The problem for Trubisky is it doesn’t work that way anymore. A couple of years? High draft picks enter the NFL readier than ever, and it’s a passer-friendly league. The timeline for deciding whether a quarterback is awesome, average or awful has accelerated, regardless of Trubisky having only one season as a college starter before arriving.

It’s inconsequential that Trubisky has a higher passer rating (85.5) over his first three seasons than Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford and Donovan McNabb had through Year 3. Those names aren’t ancient, but it’s a different era of quarterback development.

It’s clear much earlier. Patrick Mahomes, who went eight picks behind Trubisky in the 2017 draft, won the MVP in his second season. Lamar Jackson is the favorite to win it in his second season. Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz confirmed their places as franchise quarterbacks in two seasons or less.

It hasn’t happened for Trubisky. He showed occasional signs in his first season as a starter, but a quarter of his touchdown passes came in one game against the lowly Buccaneers, and he posted an 89 passer rating otherwise.

That’s near where he has hovered this season, when opposing defenders have openly talked about forcing him to throw. Among 34 players with at least 150 passes, he’s tied for 29th in passer rating (80.5), ranks 23rd in completion percentage (62.2) and is last in yards per attempt (5.8).

In 2017, he was the Bears’ first full-time starter to average fewer than 200 yards per game since Kyle Orton in 2008, and he’s averaging 185.8 after going for a season-high 278 yards in a victory over the Giants.

The game against the Lions on Thursday sets up well for Trubisky. They have the third-worst passing defense and allow 26.5 points per game. He threw for three touchdowns against them three weeks ago, but it was mostly three-and-outs the rest of the way.

This will be his 37th career start, which was early by the old standards, but a proper sample size nowadays.

The other part of Smith’s trajectory that is unique is that the 49ers were willing to wait. Late bloomers often have their epiphany in a different organization than the one that drafted them.

That’s a possibility the Bears must be willing to accept if they realize that Trubisky isn’t the quarterback for them despite trading up to take him at No. 2. They can’t keep a guy out of fear that he might pan out for some other team a few years down the road. Good for him if he does.

For the rest of this season, however, the Bears have no choice but to remain patient. They can go to Chase Daniel out of the bullpen in a pinch, but Trubisky will be their starter the rest of the way. They have enough of a book on him now, though, that they should already be planning to bring in a veteran in the offseason.

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