The COVID-19 offseason in the NFL arguably gave Mitch Trubisky an edge in his battle with veteran Nick Foles for the Bears’ starting quarterback job.
Trubisky wasn’t exactly the people’s choice after his disappointing 2019 season, but after an offseason with no on-field work, Trubisky’s familiarity with Matt Nagy’s offense and in particular his receivers figures to be an advantage, with less than four weeks of training camp and no preseason games to prepare for the regular season.
Even with that short run-up, the Bears’ first two practices in pads this week provide little if any indication of where this “open competition” is headed. But early indications are that Foles’ mental game and ability to learn quickly and thoroughly could already have him ahead of Trubisky. Foles’ experience in learning new systems and adapting to new teammates with the Eagles, Chiefs, Eagles and Jaguars might neutralize Trubisky’s advantage of incumbency. They already seem to be playing on a level playing field.
“On the field, the comfort level [for Foles] grows all the time pretty quickly,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. “He’s been [at] a lot of different places in different systems, so he’s been through this before. I think he understands.
“I think Nick does a great job of getting around everyone else, talking to them, communicating — whether it be on the field or in the walk over to the meeting room. What I’ve noticed about Nick is he’s very conscious about it. He makes great effort to do it. He’ll get up to speed quickly.”
On multiple levels, Foles’ personality seems well-suited for this situation. He comes across as personable and genuine — able to connect with people without trying to force it. For a player who has had a checkered career in eight NFL seasons — from demoted starter to Super Bowl champion — Foles has a presence about him, exuding the calm confidence of a player who’s been there before.
That doesn’t mean Foles will be able to turn a bad offense into a good one. But his intangibles are the kind that make a coach comfortable, which could be a factor if it’s a close call.
“First and foremost, just his presence in the huddle,” said quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, who coached Foles with the Eagles and Jaguars. “You can tell he’s been in there in critical situations. He’s been in there in the Super Bowl when things were really, really tight. You can just tell by his experience that when he steps in that huddle he has some presence for sure.”
DeFilippo is familiar with Foles’ mental approach — never better than when he led the Eagles to the Super Bowl after the 2017 season, including an MVP performance in the Super Bowl victory over Tom Brady and the Patriots.
“His focus was unbelievable,” DeFilippo said. “I’ve never coached a quarterback before that had focus going into that stretch of games that Nick did. I’ve never seen that level of in-the-moment and level of focus from an athlete before. I think that allowed him to play at the level he played at. It was unbelievable.”
Obviously, it’s just a matter of time for Foles at this point. He won’t have preseason games to develop game-speed chemistry with his teammates. And that’s critical for him.
“The biggest thing for Nick is trust,” DeFilippo said. “He loves to be able to trust his teammates on the field . . . throwing the ball up there to one of our receivers or tight ends and trusting that they are going to make a play.
“I think that takes some time and some feel going through that process. So I think you see Nick getting better every day. I know his level of play and when he’s at his best. He’s at his best when he really knows his teammates well.”