The Bears want to see Mitch Trubisky one more time.
The rookie quarterback will start the preseason finale against the Browns on Thursday, coach John Fox said. His inclusion in the most meaningless of the four exhibition games — most, if not all, of the Bears’ starters won’t play — qualified as a mild surprise, as Fox went out of his way Sunday to say Mark Sanchez would play in the exhibition.
Upon further review, Sanchez won’t play against the Browns, Fox said Tuesday.
Neither will Mike Glennon, the presumptive Week 1 starter. He’ll stay the starter, too, even if the former No. 2 overall pick shines against the Browns.
Even though game planning for the fourth exhibition pales in comparison to a regular-season contest, the Bears want to see how Trubisky prepares and performs when he knows he’s starting.
“It’s not easy to get live game reps as a quarterback in this league,” Fox said. “It helps development. He needs all those opportunities he can get, and that’s no different Thursday night.”
They do so at a cost — the risk of injury. Were Trubisky seriously hurt playing against the Browns’ backups, Fox and general manager Ryan Pace never would be forgiven by a fan base eager to see the North Carolina alum develop into a franchise cornerstone.
In last year’s preseason finale, the Browns started eight defenders who would go on to start in Week 1; were they to do it again, Trubisky would face more starters Thursday than he did in the Bears’ first drive of the second half on Sunday in Nashville.
An injury would erase all the tremendous progress Trubisky has made since the start of training camp and cost the quarterback a year of development. Trubisky takes that risk every time he takes the field, but Thursday will be among the least meaningful professional games he’ll ever participate in.
If the Bears are lucky, they can reap a reward: Added experience that would inform Trubisky’s practices early in the season and manifest itself whenever he starts a regular-season game.
Trubisky’s playing-time plan isn’t much different than other highly touted rookies. The Browns still haven’t said publicly whether they plan to play DeShone Kizer, their second-round pick and Week 1
starter, on Thursday night. They played their Week 1 starter in the preseason finale twice in the last three years, including 2016.
Patrick Mahomes, drafted eight spots after Trubisky, will start the Chiefs’ preseason finale and return to his backup role once the season begins. Of the three quarterbacks drafted in the first round last year, two — the Rams’ Jared Goff and the Broncos’ Paxton Lynch — did the same. The third, the Eagles’ Carson Wentz, sat out the finale but started the next week.
Trubisky said last week that he developed faster than the Bears expected, and his numbers prove him right. His 354 passing yards, 70.8 completion percentage, three touchdowns and 112.7 passer rating have dwarfed Glennon’s statistics. He can add to them Thursday.
The Bears’ other reserves will have different duties Thursday. Fourth-stringer Connor Shaw will enter the game when Trubisky’s done and may end up playing more than he does. Sanchez will sit. The Bears signed him to be a respected veteran voice in the quarterbacks room. A lack of playing time doesn’t affect his value.
“I think he’s had a lot of looks,” Fox said. “It just hasn’t been with us, other than practice, which is fine for us.”
So is seeing their top draft pick again. No quarterback on the team has received more preseason snaps than Trubisky’s 101, which are nine more than Glennon’s 92. Trubisky has attempted 48 passes to Glennon’s 44.
After Thursday, it could be months before Trubisky appears under center in a game again.
“I feel like Mitch looked great,” receiver Kevin White said of his showing Sunday. “He has a certain type of energy towards him. I think he’s a really good quarterback. And he can do a lot of things well.”
Follow me on Twitter@patrickfinley.