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New Bears QB Nick Foles already has playbook down in race for starting job

Bears coach Matt Nagy said Friday there’s no disadvantage for Foles as he battles Mitch Trubisky because he has effectively learned the offense remotely over the last two months.

Foles has started 13 games over the last four regular seasons.
AP Photos

In the ongoing race to claim the Bears’ starting quarterback job, coach Matt Nagy believes newcomer Nick Foles already has caught up to incumbent Mitch Trubisky when it comes to knowing the offense.

In two months since being traded from the Jaguars, and without any on-field work because of the coronavirus pandemic, Foles got up to speed through the digital playbook and meetings on Zoom.

“It’s like riding a bike,” Nagy said in a video conference Friday. “He’s been through some different offenses, even from the last time we were together in Kansas City. But once you present somebody like Nick the playbook and they start looking at it, all of a sudden it just clicks.

“You start remembering it and you just start retraining your brain from what you knew in the past year or couple years. There’s still terminology differences between all of us, but that doesn’t take much. And Nick’s a smart guy.”

That eliminates any thought that Trubisky, whom Nagy said in February hadn’t yet mastered the playbook, would have a head start.

By the way, if this sounds like something that would emerge only from a slow news day when other sports are on hiatus, think again. Every step of the Foles-Trubisky battle will be thoroughly documented. No storyline is more critical for the Bears this season. And the race will continue through the opener and beyond.

“We all understand that this thing is gonna be what y’all talk about,” Nagy said. “And that’s fair. That’s totally fair.”

Trubisky triggered this outcome with his poor play in 2019, and it escalated with the Bears trading a fourth-round pick for Foles and a contract with $21 million guaranteed, then declining Trubisky’s fifth-year option for 2021.

With OTAs canceled and the NFL barring coaches and players from being at team facilities, the first leg is online. Nagy downplayed that, saying, “There’s no competition going on right now over Zoom.”

Coming into the competition, Trubisky had the obvious advantage of having Nagy in his ear the last two seasons. Foles shares a background with Nagy from the 2012 season with the Eagles (Nagy was a quality-control assistant) and ’16 with the Chiefs (Nagy was offensive coordinator), plus his experience with Nagy cohorts Doug Pederson, Frank Reich and Andy Reid.

And while he has never played specifically in Nagy’s offense like Trubisky has, Foles expects to get acclimated quickly.

“It’s nice to have that foundation . . . it’s by no means starting over with no knowledge of the offense,” Foles said last month of his time with the Eagles and Chiefs. “There might be a few different terminologies and different run game and stuff like that, but I’ll be able to understand it decently well.”

Another part of Foles’ history works in his favor, too. At 31, he has been through virtually everything imaginable in a quarterback’s career. It’s an unprecedented trajectory.

How many Super Bowl MVP quarterbacks also can be described as journeymen? The Bears are his fifth team, and that doesn’t account for two separate stops in Philadelphia. He has won and lost starting jobs multiple times over eight seasons, yet started six playoff games.

He made the Pro Bowl in 2013 with 27 touchdown passes, two interceptions and a 119.2 passer rating, then plummeted before reemerging in 2017 to lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl title.

That’s a big difference from Trubisky’s whirlwind of being groomed as a franchise quarterback then, after two seasons as the full-time starter, being put on notice.

Fighting for his job is new to Trubisky. For Foles, it’s basically all he knows.

“There’s been different times that he’s been humbled, but he’s overcome that,” Nagy said of Foles. “It has made him a stronger person on and off the field. Going from the top to the bottom and in between, I think he’s just excited to be around good people and help the team.”