If only we believed in Ryan Pace as much as Pace believes in Mitch Trubisky.
The Bears’ general manager deserves credit for rebuilding the franchise into a playoff contender virtually from scratch in 2018 after he arrived in 2015 — and received it in the form of Executive of the Year recognition.
But when Pace talks about his quarterbacks, it’s a little challenging to hang on every word. After he signed Mike Glennon in free agency in 2017 and drafted Trubisky over Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes, everything sounds more like hope than gospel.
Be that as it may, Pace was resolute that Trubisky was a deserving winner in the quarterback competition with Nick Foles. The COVID-19 offseason was the worst in football history to have a quarterback derby — a virtual offseason program followed by an abbreviated training camp with no preseason games. But Pace sees progress from a player who regressed last season. Take his word for it. Or don’t.
“Mitch had a good camp — and taking that into the regular season is obviously the objective,” Pace said. “I think overall, his decision-making, we felt like that’s improving. And as he builds, you feel his command and comfort level in the offense. That’s real.”
It remains to be seen how real it is. Trubisky doesn’t seem to have a problem performing in the controlled environment of practice. He’s a “reps guy” who studies harder than anyone and aces the test on paper. Applying what he has learned in the real world has been a challenge.
So take it for what it’s worth that Pace has seen that progress firsthand.
“When Matt [Nagy] would create different situations on offense,” Pace said, “whether it was two-minute or hurry-up or blitz periods, just how Mitch was handling that pressure I thought was impressive to see.
“The tempo he operated with, getting out of the huddle. The things he was doing off the field, in the meeting rooms, around his teammates . . . I guess there’s just a feel of confidence and comfort. I think it comes in Year 3 in this offense. I think competition brings the best out of everybody. And I think this competition brought the best out of him.”
Praising a quarterback for how he gets out of the huddle seems like a red flag, but perhaps that’s just a lack of football sophistication on my part. But Pace provided a number of narratives supporting a Trubisky emergence that seem dubious coming from Halas Hall:
• “I think it comes in Year 3 of this offense.”
That could be right. It’s possible everything comes together for Nagy, the offense and Trubisky in Year 3. But usually that kind of growth happens when Year 2 was better than Year 1.
• “I think competition brings the best out of everybody.”
To the naked eye, that decidedly did not happen in this training camp. In fact, to amateur observers of practice it was the opposite.
• “I think both quarterbacks benefitted greatly from going against our defense every day.”
That sounds so right but turned out to be so wrong last year that it’s a tough sell in 2020.
• “We’ve added a lot of pieces around him that I think are gonna benefit [him] when you talk about what we’ve done at tight end and in the run game.”
Again, it sounds like a plan — what quarterback in this offense (or any offense) hasn’t benefitted from productive tight ends and a running game? Rookie Cole Kmet and veteran Jimmy Graham upgrading the tight end position might be the surest thing to come out of training camp. But even so, that’s a familiar false positive at Bears camp.
And already the running game is a question mark with David Montgomery recovering from a groin injury. There’s no indication the offensive line will be better under line coach Juan Castillo.
• “[There’s] just more of a focused, calloused feel to him that I think you need to play quarterback in this league.”
There’s little doubt that Trubisky developed an edge last season amid constant criticism of his play. But it never elicited the kind of laser focus on the field that made him more precise and efficient. It didn’t elevate the play of his teammates.
Maybe that has changed. Pace is counting on it. He sees Trubisky as a changed man, a talented young player who has emerged from a gauntlet of trials stronger than he was before.
“Just really proud,” Pace said when asked about the organization’s belief in Trubisky. “If you put yourself in his shoes and the offseason he had coming off last season . . . There was a lot of blame to go around last year. Being the quarterback, he takes the brunt of a lot of that.
“Then we trade for a quarterback and we don’t exercise the fifth-year option and all these things happen — and the moment he walked in the building, you just felt a different presence and a different mindset. And that just carried him throughout camp. [I’m] just proud of the way he’s conducted himself.”
Will it make a difference? Pace has plenty of valid reasons to think Trubisky will be better in 2020. But with all due respect, I admire his faith more than I trust his judgment. Pardon me if I have to see it to believe it.