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Bears camp: Did Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles make each other better?

The Bears hoped that challenging Trubisky with real competition for the first time in his NFL career would spark him to run away with the job. They were wrong. If they hoped Foles would sense an opportunity to start for the next three years and ease past Trubisky during training camp to get there, that didn’t happen, either.

The Bears traded for Nick Foles to challenge Mitch Trubisky.
AP Photos

When Bears coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace first publicly explained why they traded for quarterback Nick Foles, they stuck to a common theme. On April 3, they said the deal – which sent a fourth-round pick to the Jaguars — was meant to make both Foles and incumbent Mitch Trubisky better.

“We know it’s gonna bring the best out of both of these guys just because of who they are as people, and what their makeup is,” Nagy said then. “That’s the exciting part.”

Pace, who was a month away from declining Trubisky’s fifth-year option, detailed a discussion between coach, general manager and quarterback that happened after the trade.

“You could feel that in [Trubisky] right away—kind of that, ‘OK, hey, let’s go, what’s best for the team — and this is gonna bring out the best in all of us,’” Pace said.

A week before the start of the regular season, it’s clear that the competition did not.

The Bears hoped that challenging Trubisky with real competition for the first time in his NFL career would spark him to run away with the job. They were wrong.

If they hoped Foles would sense an opportunity to start for the next three years and ease past Trubisky during training camp to get there, that didn’t happen, either.

Neither made each other markedly better on the practice field, leaving the Bears with the worst of both worlds as they spend another 24 or 48 hours choosing their starter after scouring hours of practice tape.

The quarterback competition hasn’t produced a “clear-cut” winner, to use Nagy’s own words, yet still managed to divide practice snaps in half. Whichever quarterback is given the starting job has a long runway with September games against the Lions, Giants and Falcons — but they’ve also suffered from having fewer practice snaps than almost every other No. 1 quarterback in the NFL. During the shortest, most abrupt preseason in modern NFL history.

That feels like a recipe for failure.

Nagy said Wednesday that the influence one quarterback has on another is seen behind closed doors, but not necessarily on the practice field. He blamed that on the two rotating snap counts. Assistants were careful to give the two the exact same number of plays, and types of plays, each day.

‘”What I think is that both quarterbacks in the meeting rooms, off-the-field, relationship-wise, they’re making each other better, which is what was expected just because they’re good people,” Nagy said Wednesday. “There’s not malicious activity between them where it’s just fake. …

“On the field, they’re both so laser-focused at trying to be the best quarterback that they can, that whenever a play goes on, if one sees something, usually the other one is in the next play. So he can’t tell that player in practice because one’s in and other is out. They have to talk on the sideline. So a lot of those discussions go on in the meeting room.”

More of those discussions will happen on the sideline when one is wearing a helmet and the other a baseball cap. If Foles becomes the backup, there’s no question he’ll shine in a familiar mentor role. If Trubisky does, perhaps he’ll benefit from watching from the sideline, the pressure off him.

Or maybe not. Neither hypothetical inspires much confidence. The logic, though, wasn’t necessarily flawed: the NFL is built on the notion, cliche though it may be, that iron sharpens iron.

ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky told the Sun-Times last month that the Bears had a quarterback “question,” not a “problem.” He listed improvements that would propel Trubisky during camp: fine-tuned fundamentals, a newfound willingness to scramble now that his left shoulder was healthy, and a bump in confidence.

And, of course, his competition.

“I’d say the best thing to happen to him is Nick Foles coming in,” he said. “Because he knows Nick Foles has street cred, he’s been there, he’s done that, and he can

play.

“So now Mitchell Trubisky will have to have urgency everyday. ‘I can’t have a bad practice. I can’t let up a little bit. I have to be focused every single day because I know if I slip up someone is there that will take my job.’”

Trubisky had plenty of bad practices during training camp, though. And it speaks to Foles’ performance that, about a week before the season begins, it’s not at all clear whether Trubisky’s job will actually be taken away as a result.