The Bears’ scrimmage Saturday at Soldier Field will give players their only look at the team’s game-day experience, such as it is in the time of COVID-19.
More important, it will give quarterbacks Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles their most high-profile opportunities to seize the starting job.
Neither has distinguished himself through the first two weeks of padded practices, leaving observers with different opinions about who is in the lead. Below, the Sun-Times’ Patrick Finley, Jason Lieser and Mark Potash answer the only question that matters this preseason: Who’s winning the starting quarterback job as Trubisky and Foles prepare to practice Saturday?
PATRICK FINLEY: TRUBISKY
The Bears claim they’re going to pick the best training-camp performer. They’ll tell anyone who will listen it’s an ‘‘open competition,” painstakingly graded by coach Matt Nagy, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo and discussed at length in daily meetings.
If they truly believe that, then Trubisky is the leader. He has been the better performer in camp — or, perhaps more accurately, the less poor one.
The Bears had hoped for a winner by knockout relatively early in camp. Trubisky is winning a split decision, though, and Nagy is warning he’ll take as long as he can to name his starter because neither has proved to be dynamic on the practice field.
To me, Foles has looked better than Trubisky during only two of the Bears’ padded practices, including the most recent one open to the media Wednesday. It’s possible that after spending the early part of the month learning his teammates’ names and the playbook, Foles only will get better. But he’s not there yet.
Trubisky began camp with a running start. He threw to teammates at suburban high schools throughout the offseason, and Foles never did. But despite the talk of Trubisky’s motivation and new ‘‘edge,’’ he hasn’t turned that early advantage into a tangible lead during camp. He has been erratic and uneven.
Foles has been, too. It’s disturbing that the man for whom the Bears traded a fourth-round pick and gave $21 million guaranteed hasn’t been good enough to leave Trubisky in his dust. Unless he does in the next week or so — the Bears, ideally, would want a starter in place for the start of their Week 1 workweek — Trubisky will back into the starting job.
JASON LIESER: FOLES
A couple of weeks of practice in which the quarterbacks took turns looking negligibly better than the other doesn’t change the plan. The Bears wanted Foles from the start, and he’s the guy they’ll pick. They traded for him fully believing he was an upgrade over Trubisky, and the ideal track for their future is Foles starting this season and serving as the bridge to a rookie in 2021.
That’s long-term thinking. In the short term, Nagy said each player’s history will factor significantly into his decision, and that’s where this tips in Foles’ favor. While Foles’ career has been choppy, he has a modest stack of big performances in big games. Trubisky does not.
Foles’ crown jewel was winning Super Bowl MVP for the Eagles after the 2017 season, but that’s one of four playoff games in which he put up a 100 passer rating or better. He helped win pivotal regular-season games for the Eagles the next season, too.
Those are his most recent extended opportunities. Other than that, it mostly has been two games here and there. And the fact that things didn’t work out for him with the Jaguars last season doesn’t mean much. Does anything ever work out for anybody when they go to the Jaguars?
On top of all that, the rest of the locker room needs a change. Trubisky is well-liked despite his stumbles, which is a testament to his dedication and personality, but his teammates can’t stay patient forever. Going with Foles will provide a much-needed spark.
MARK POTASH: TRUBISKY
Anyone who was expecting a decisive winner in an abbreviated camp with no preseason games was in for a disappointment. The Bears are rebuilding a bad offense, so with so many moving and developmental parts — from an offensive line with a new position coach to a revamped tight end corps to all those young, unproven receivers — neither quarterback was likely to become a revelation in camp.
And neither has so far. Even if Foles has a slight lead off his impressive two-minute drive in practice Wednesday — he burned fifth-round rookie cornerback Kindle Vildor for a touchdown pass to Riley Ridley on that drive that opened so many eyes — the separation between him and Trubisky hasn’t been significant.
And that’s reason enough to give the incumbent Trubisky the first shot in the regular season. To the naked eye, Trubisky’s mechanics don’t look any better than they were last season. But if the Bears were going to give up on him off this small sample size in camp, they should have just signed a No. 1 to replace him in the first place.
Therefore, Trubisky should start the season opener against the Lions. It’s an opponent he has played great against in Nagy’s offense against Matt Patricia’s defense, with passer ratings of 148.6, 131.0 and 118.1 — the second-, third- and sixth-highest of his career — and nine touchdown passes to only one interception.
So facing the Lions — and the Giants the next week — gives Trubisky a fair chance to succeed and re-establish himself as a franchise-quarterback prospect.
And if it doesn’t work out, the Bears can turn to Foles where he has done his best work in the NFL — as a backup replacing the starter.