Bears bank on improved QB Mitch Trubisky being their biggest offseason upgrade
The Bears didn’t make splashy acquisitions, but they’re banking on improvement at quarterback.
It has been a pleasantly quiet offseason for the Bears, and that’s usually how it goes for good teams. General manager Ryan Pace made a few tweaks here and there, mainly at running back and safety, but there was little else that needed to be done to a team that went 12-4 and hasn’t hit its ceiling.
But the Bears believe they actually did make a big, splashy offseason “acquisition,” and it’s not Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. It’s at quarterback. If Mitch Trubisky keeps his trajectory going with a leap in Year 3, that’s a bigger upgrade than anything the team could’ve bought in free agency.
“The word that comes to mind for me is incremental improvement — steady, incremental improvement,” Pace said. “I think we’ve seen him do that. As long as he just keeps on that pace . . . we’ll be happy.
“You can feel his confidence growing. Chemistry, continuity . . . that’s going to continue as we go forward.”
If the Bears are serious about a Super Bowl run, it must. Pace and coach Matt Nagy are betting the season on it.
There’s enough talent, especially on defense, for the Bears to be good, but it’ll require significant strides from Trubisky for them to be a championship contender. They won’t be in that mix unless he’s great. Don’t be fooled if Nagy and Pace say otherwise to shield him from the spotlight.
And at this point, with players reporting for training camp Thursday in Bourbonnais, they think he’s ready. When Pace said flatly the team has “the right people in place,” at the kickoff event Sunday in Decatur, it was with the belief that Trubisky will surge into the top tier of quarterbacks.
While there’s never a guarantee that any young quarterback will keep climbing, Pace’s optimism is well-reasoned.
After rattling through the typical rookie travails after Pace drafted him No. 2 overall, Trubisky got better across the board last season. He was a mid-range NFL starter, which is a compliment at 24 years old.
He threw 24 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions on his way to a 95.4 passer rating, which ranked 16th. He averaged 7.4 yards per attempt and 230 per game, both of which could use a boost but still showed undeniable progress.
The emphasis heading into this season is his accuracy. He completed 66.6 percent of his passes (14th in the NFL) and 2.8 percent of his attempts were intercepted (23rd). Those numbers aren’t alarming at all, but there’s work to do.
“There are certain mechanical things as a young quarterback that you’re constantly improving at,” Pace said. “We’ve surrounded him with a lot of really good coaches, and he’s eager to take that teaching and you feel him getting better because of that.”
Experience isn’t the only factor, but it’s a big one. In his second season with Nagy, as well as his second with offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich and third with quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone, Trubisky should shift from learning the offense to mastering it.
At the end of organized team activities last month, Trubisky had a thorough grasp of the plays and said he was, “becoming even more detailed with them,” which gives him a more authoritative presence on the field and in meetings and thought the offense was “way ahead” of schedule for the upcoming season.
The same growth is happening between him and his receivers. The cohesion Pace wants is now more than a year in the making after the Bears brought back a dangerous crew of skill players headlined by Allen Robinson, Tarik Cohen, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton. All are hitting their prime at the perfect time for Trubisky.
“He’s a naturally accurate thrower, and I think as you play longer in this offense and that timing comes into fruition, you get used to these receivers, you develop a chemistry with them, the touch goes into those throws,” Pace said. “I think you see that more and more as we go on, and that’s encouraging. We saw it in the offseason program and we expect to see that continue.”
Trubisky also has an experienced offensive line, and four of the starters are signed through at least 2020 and the fifth, left guard Cody Whitehair, could get an extension soon. That’s vital stability.
The Bears have all the right people in place around him, to borrow Pace’s phrase, and now it’s all on Trubisky to steer this offense somewhere near where the defense is. That’s a massive responsibility, but everyone — Trubisky included — seems comfortable with it.