Bears’ Mitch Trubisky vs. Nick Foles: Will competition bring out the best in either of them?

The Bears’ quarterback derby is between two players who have never won a QB derby. But the upcoming competition still figures to produce a better quarterback than the Bears had in 2019.

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Nick Foles (9, passing against the Bears in the wild-card playoff game in 2019) will battle incumbent Mitch Trubisky for the Bears’ starting quarterback job in 2020.

Nick Foles (9, passing against the Bears in the wild-card playoff game in 2019) will battle incumbent Mitch Trubisky for the Bears’ starting quarterback job in 2020.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Asked about evaluating a quarterback competition between Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles that already has been impacted by an abbreviated offseason, Bears coach Matt Nagy seems to be anticipating a close call based on feel and intuition as much as quantifiable production.

“To me, you can sense it, you feel it, the efficiency, the productivity within the special situations that you have,” Nagy said. “Is it base first or second down — are you making the correct adjustments at the line of scrimmage to pick up the blitz? How accurate are you on specific throws? Are you playing smart in the red zone? What’s your mentality? What’s your communication like at the line of scrimmage with the wide receivers when you’re going two-minute, no-huddle?

“And how are you handling the coaching? And then — and this is the most challenging part, with where we’re at with losing out on the offseason — is there improvement? Everybody has bad days. But do you respond to that … or are there three bad days in a row?”

With both quarterbacks expecting to get equal time, it appears like it will be an objective evaluation. 

“Preseason games, reps, playing more, creating more reps,” Nagy said. “Having both those quarterbacks play with the same wide receivers and tight ends against the same defenses — that’s going to be important. I do believe it’ll naturally happen. I feel good about that. We have a good plan. And they understand it.”

We’ll see about that. One of football’s many oddities is that it thrives on competition at every position but the most important one. Competition at quarterback generally is a sign of weakness. As Bears fans know all too well, teams pay dearly for a “franchise” quarterback who will become the unquestioned, unopposed leader of the team. Even when the Bears signed unproven Mike Glennon in 2017, they guaranteed him the starting job, despite drafting Trubisky that spring. 

When that plan faltered on both ends — Glennon lasted four games; Trubisky fizzled in the unopposed franchise role last season — the Bears have turned to competition to solve their quarterback issue. Trubisky and veteran Nick Foles will be virtual equals whenever training camp begins. Trubisky is the incumbent and will get the first snaps with the first-offense. But Foles has a Super Bowl ring, familiarity with the offense from his time with the Eagles and Chiefs and a connection with not only Matt Nagy, but quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. 

Though Foles is the favorite — in Vegas and in the minds of many Trubisky-weary Bears fans — it’s a pretty even battle to start. The hope is that competition will bring out the best in both of them, or at least one of them. After two years of being supported and publicly coddled by Matt Nagy, maybe Trubisky will respond to the challenge of having to win the job instead of it being handed to him.

“In the end, what we want is for both those quarterbacks to be the best possible quarterbacks that they can be individually and then make it hard on us to make the decision on who the starter is, so that makes the Bears a better football team,” Nagy said.

“When you have two good people like we do in Mitchell and Nick, it makes these types of decisions and conversations a lot easier to have because they’re competitive as hell, they want the best for the Bears and they’re gonna fight their tails off to do that. And I think that’s the beauty of it.”

The irony is that the Bears are holding a quarterback competition between two players who have never really won a quarterback competition. Trubisky competed for the starting job as a redshirt freshman and sophomore at North Carolina and lost both of them. Every starting job he’s had, he’s either won by default (the Bears in 2017) or gone in as the unchallenged guy — at North Carolina in 2016 and with the Bears in 2018 and 2019. 

Foles’ credentials as a competitor are solid, with his league-leading 119.2 passer rating in 2013 with the Eagles and, of course, the standout postseason with the Eagles after the 2017 season that was capped by the Super Bowl victory over the Patriots. 

But he, too, never has won an open competition for the starting job. His only starting jobs were unchallenged — with the Eagles in 2014, the Rams in 2015 and the Jaguars in 2019. The last time he competed for a starting job was as a redshirt sophomore at Arizona in 2009. He lost to true sophomore Matt Scott, then took the job later that season when Scott faltered, and kept it. 

So the favorite to win the Bears’ starting quarterback job is a quarterback who has done his best work in the NFL as the No. 2 — replacing injured Michael Vick in 2013; replacing injured Carson Wentz in 2017; and again replacing an injured Wentz in 2018. 

Trubisky and Foles have a history of success (in varying degrees) in Nagy’s offense. Re-establishing a workable offensive line and fortifying the tight end position with veteran Jimmy Graham and rookie Cole Kmet figures to give both contenders a boost.

Will competition be the answer to the Bears’ quarterback problem? More than likely, it won’t produce a great quarterback, but a better one than the Bears had in 2019. At this point, the Bears can’t ask for much more than that. 

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