Five signs of progress: Why Bears believe QB Mitch Trubisky is on right path
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BOURBONNAIS — As the seconds ticked off the play clock — 7, 6, 5, 4 — quarterback Mitch Trubisky continued to shout new orders to his offense. With one second left, center Cody Whitehair snapped the ball. Trubisky then threw a perfect pass to rookie receiver Anthony Miller, who was streaking down the middle of the field.
It was a big gain in a full team drill — a potential touchdown in a real game — during Trubisky’s best day so far in Bears training camp Monday.
“I would just say it’s clicking,” Trubisky said. “I am feeling that anticipation. The offense is starting to slow down.”
Here are five signs of Trubisky’s progress under new head coach Matt Nagy, as seen through the eyes of quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone, the only holdover on offense from former coach John Fox’s staff:
Learning the language
There’s an old clip from Raiders coach Jon Gruden’s days with the Buccaneers in which Gruden is on quarterback Chris Simms’ case for his inability to recite plays during practice.
“I’m making you nervous, aren’t I?” Gruden says.
“I just couldn’t spit it out,” Simms responds.
Trubisky isn’t having that problem. And Nagy’s play calls, like those in Gruden’s offense, can be complex and long — as much as 16 words.
“There’s some plays that now, when [Trubisky] hears the formation or right when the protection comes out — the first word of the play — he knows it,” Ragone said. “He doesn’t have to hear it again.”
Ragone said Trubisky is starting to display conviction and command. Better yet, he’s able to explain during their reviews why certain plays worked or others didn’t.
“He’s giving back the right answers,” Ragone said. “He’s executing plays that are not just the 101 level, but the next level. Obviously, not everything is down, but he’s making those steady improvements.”
Moving on from mistakes
Trubisky played well Sunday and Monday but also had moments of frustration. On Monday, after slipping on a run, he punted the ball. A day earlier, he rolled the ball toward the sideline after a run play was stuffed.
But it’s what Trubisky did next after those plays that resonated with Ragone. In both instances, he responded with pinpoint throws to Miller down the field.
“The big thing for him when we talk about this is live in the present,” Ragone said. “There’s nothing you can do about that last play. It might not even be your fault. That doesn’t matter.”
That’s partly why Trubisky’s interceptions earlier in camp were never viewed as a major problem. He not only was under orders from Nagy to test the waters, but his coaches wanted to see how he responded to mistakes.
“The more he gets in those adverse situations, you want to see how quickly he responds,” Ragone said. “He’s done that the last couple of days.”
Trubisky’s mechanics tended to go awry in games last season, when it also didn’t help that he lacked weapons and that Fox’s offensive approach was simplistic. Nagy, a former quarterback and QBs coach, has put a greater emphasis on fundamentals, and Ragone thinks Nagy’s style of offense and Trubisky’s understanding of it will help. The coaching staff is tailoring everything to Trubisky’s strengths.
“In my opinion, your fundamentals tie in to understanding the rhythm of each play,” Ragone said. “So if you understand the rhythm of your drop, when you need to get to the top of your drop, when you need to hitch and when you need to move on, your fundamentals usually fall in place.
“When you’re too fast or too slow, you typically throw your fundamentals off. That’s because you don’t have a really great understanding of the rhythm of each play, and he’s starting to get that.”
Feeling out his receivers
In recent practices, Trubisky has targeted receivers Bennie Fowler and Javon Wims as much as Miller, Allen Robinson and Kevin White. Nagy continues to rotate in different receivers, trying to see who runs which routes well — which can change depending on formations and field position.
“Coach Nagy has done a great job of explaining to Mitchell the importance of understanding the timing of each player and working with them,” Ragone said.
Ragone said he can feel the timing coming together, especially with Miller and Robinson.
“There are some throws you’re like, when he let it go, ‘Oooh,’ ” Ragone said, wincing. “But he understood that’s his guy, and his guy has made plays for him.”
It goes back to testing the waters.
“You want to see what you can get away with in terms of ‘Maybe I can fit that ball in there’ or ‘[I’ll] see if my guy can make that play,’ ” Ragone said. “You don’t want to try that in the game the first time. You want to see it in practice.”
Taking charge of the team
After completing a long throw to Robinson on Monday, Trubisky saw rookie linebacker Kylie Fitts in discomfort on the ground after his rush failed and checked on him before moving on to the next play.
“There’s a huge difference from training camp a year ago to now,” Ragone said. “He was the third-string quarterback [then], and it wasn’t his team yet. Here it’s unequivocal. It’s obviously his football team.”
Ragone called this camp “a whole different animal.”
“He’s taken leadership in terms of understanding [that] the guys around him go by his example, and it means something to him,” Ragone said. “He’s way different.”
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