Mitch Trubisky made a deal with himself this offseason. While the Bears were trading for someone to replace him and deciding not to pick up his fifth-year option, the quarterback forced himself to stay positive and focus on what he could control.
When the Bears named him their starting quarterback Friday, they gave him something else he can try to steer — the direction of his career, perhaps for one last meaningful time.
“I mean, that’s really all you can ask for,” Trubisky said Sunday. “I control my own destiny, and I’m definitely not going to take this opportunity for granted. I feel like I got a fresh, new clean slate. And that’s how every year should feel. And after winning, after coming out of a competition like that, it’s got that sort of feel to it — that it’s a new year and we all have a clean slate, and we’re not looking back at the past.
“I’m not looking over my shoulder.”
Other people will do that for him.
Almost as soon as coach Matt Nagy ended his quarterback conclave with the proverbial white smoke came the question: How long will Trubisky’s leash be? The quarterback race had a photo finish, and Nick Foles has made a career out of being a spark off the bench.
It’s a question Nagy certainly has entertained privately — Nagy has said for months that the competition won’t end once the regular season starts — though he tried to steer away from it publicly Sunday.
“I think for a lot of people, that’s probably one of the biggest questions that people will ask in these type of situations,” he said. “For us, there’s just an excitement of, ‘Let’s look at the glass half-full. Let’s be optimistic. Let’s just worry about that.’ If we do that, then you have way less distractions, way less things to think about.
“Now, you have to in the offseason, that’s when you have all your time to try to put together scenarios that could happen and would happen. But right now, there’s just a really good vibe in our building throughout with our team.”
Foles wouldn’t address how he’d help Trubisky manage calls should he struggle.
“The big thing is,” Foles said, “we won’t be thinking those thoughts.”
Whether they think of them or not, there’s little doubt that Trubisky’s starting job is as precarious as any in the NFL. The team isn’t invested in him beyond this season. For the first time in his career, Trubisky has a backup with starting credentials. And he’s entering a season that’s crucial for his own career, but also for that of his general manager and head coach.
As if he needed any more pressure, Trubisky could head into Sunday’s opener against the Lions without his top pressure-relief valve. Running back David Montgomery attended practice Sunday as he works back from a groin injury, but is no lock to play against the Lions. Even if he does play, Nagy has yet, in two seasons, provided Trubisky with a consistently competent rushing attack.
Trubisky will try to tackle the pressure — coming from all sides — with his new-found positivity.
“I think this whole [quarterback battle] really pushed me in that area,” he said. “To just become mentally tougher, to not worry about what people are saying about it on the outside. And just really get down to focusing on what I have to improve on as a quarterback and as a person and as a leader, to help this thing.”
Nagy was impressed by Trubisky’s attitude, but said he won the job because of specific improvements he made on the field. He continued to rave about Trubisky’s improved footwork, particularly in the pocket, where he’s able to move in the face of a pass rush.
Nagy said his decision-making has improved, and he finished strong in the final days of camp, particularly in the red zone. He led his teammates well.
“You could feel the command,” Nagy said. “And I think the difference in the command that I felt, and that our coaches felt, was, it’s one where it’s very natural. It wasn’t made up. It wasn’t being told from somebody how to act. It was just very organic. And you can tell that with guys, when they are natural with that. I thought he improved there.
“For him, when he gets this opportunity, like he has right now, you could just feel it — that he’s ready to get out there and just really play hard for his teammates.”
That may not be good enough. Trubisky has played hard for his teammates for three years, but to mixed results.
Even if Trubisky’s offseason challenges were of his own making, Nagy framed Trubisky winning the job as a feel-good story.
“It was a tough year for us this year and then, all of a sudden, ‘Hey by the way, we’re going to make a trade for a quarterback that happened to be a Super Bowl MVP,’ ” he said. “And then, ‘By the way we’re not going to do your fifth year option, right?’ There’s a lot of stuff, that’s not easy.”
Nagy said that, in a “really crazy world” with “a lot of bad stories,” a good season from Trubisky would qualify as inspiring. But in arguing as much, he admitted that there’s no guarantee it will happen.
“You have an opportunity here to have a really, really cool story,” he said. “Is it going to happen? I don’t know.
“But you have somebody that’s been through a lot in the sports world, had some highs and has had a lot of lows. And he’s worked his tail off to try to win this job and have an opportunity to prove a lot of people right.”
That chance starts Sunday.
“I’m just going to take advantage of the opportunity ahead,” Trubisky said. “And it feels good. It’s exciting.”