When you trade up to draft a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick, you do so with the hope and goal of forever changing your team for the better.
In that regard, Bears general manager Ryan Pace sees Mitch Trubisky as his new version of Drew Brees.
It’s the only standard to hold Trubisky to — Pace’s starting point for quarterbacks. Pace and Brees were together for nine years in New Orleans, including six when Pace was director of pro scouting.
After drafting Trubisky on April 27, Pace was asked how he met the Brees standard.
“It’s all the traits, as far as leadership — how he is with his teammates, what his work ethic is like, and all the physical traits as well,” Pace answered.
Trubisky’s physical traits haven’t amounted to much in his first three starts as the Bears protect his development with their running game and defense. But to Pace, a quarterback’s intangibles are just as important — and what make talented QBs truly special.
With Brees and the Saints up next for the Bears on Sunday, here’s a look at how Trubisky’s intangibles are changing the team:
His work ethic
Linebacker Danny Trevathan’s starting point for quarterbacks is Peyton Manning. The Broncos drafted Trevathan in 2012, the same year they signed Manning, already a four-time NFL MVP.
“I see a lot of Peyton Manning traits in [Trubisky], staying and watching film,” Trevathan said. “That’s key. I used to watch Peyton a lot. He used to think I was a stalker. But I watched him a lot because that’s one of the greats, and I wanted to be like him, even though I was a linebacker.”
Trubisky’s work ethic — the old first-one-in, last-one-out cliché — impressed his teammates almost immediately. Rookie tight end Adam Shaheen roomed with Trubisky for months and often was asleep by the time he returned from Halas Hall.
That level of commitment resonated with the veterans.
“The guys buy into people like that, who take pride in their work and love what they do and take passion in it,” Trevathan said. “Guys love playing with guys [who are] on the same side as you. That’s what I see from him.”
Fullback Michael Burton, who spent two seasons playing with Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, called Trubisky a grinder.
“It’s really important to him,” Burton said. “He’s a professional, and sometimes you don’t see that with such a young guy.”
Cornerback Prince Amukamara enjoys trash talk, and Trubisky often is a target.
“I just basically poke at them to see if they’ll bite back,” Amukamara said. “I’ll definitely crack some jokes on Mitch, and he definitely shouts a few jokes back.”
Trubisky calls him “Princess.”
“That’s a weak joke,” Amukamara said with a smile, “but he calls me that.”
Their connection is important. Trubisky is one of the guys.
“Guys like him,” said Amukamara, who spent his first five seasons with Giants quarterback Eli Manning. “He fits very well with the team. As soon as he got the starting job, he took ownership of that and commands the huddle and definitely commands the team.”
Former Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was a polarizing figure, and, fair or not, his efforts to improve as a leader and win over all of his teammates were never enough. Trubisky, like Cutler, is an “alpha,” as players often say, but unlike Cutler, he has gotten teammates to rally around him in only three weeks.
There’s a palpable win-for-Mitch attitude among the players, who understand they can help his development by playing better around him.
It helps that they like him.
“For a quarterback, that position, it starts with confidence, and he’s in a good situation with our defense playing great,” Amukamara said. “Expectations are still high for him, especially with where he’s been picked. But we’re all helping each other, meaning we’re not putting him in bad situations.
“But I’ve seen Mitch in practice, and I’ve seen him in training camp. There’s going to be a time where he’s asked to really light it up, and he’s capable of doing that.”
No one is harder on Trubisky than Trubisky. After his late interception against the Vikings, he stood in front of his teammates and blamed himself for the loss in his first career start.
He was happy with the victory against the Panthers but said after the game that he found his own contributions to it upsetting. He expects better of himself, and his teammates identify with that.
“He’s definitely taking leadership,” rookie running back Tarik Cohen said. “He’s very accountable. If he messes up, he’ll be the first to let us know, and he’s holding us accountable. If I go too deep in my route, he’ll let me know. We’ll just [talk] from there.”
It goes back to his work ethic.
“I would characterize [him] as very dedicated,” Cohen said. “You can tell he’s laser-focused on the task, and he just wants to get the job done more than anybody else out on the field.”
Perhaps no NFL quarterback breaks down his team better than Brees does. Search YouTube for a selection of his pre-game speeches, which stand out not only because of the words Brees uses in his chants but because of how his teammates respond to him.
Trubisky isn’t there yet, but teammates say he’s being more assertive, whether it’s getting the offense aligned or offering encouragement.
“That ‘it’ factor — he’s a leader,” Burton said. “He just has a presence about himself, whether it’s just something as small as breaking the offense down after practice or breaking them down in the locker room. [It’s] a presence where he’s talking [and] everybody is listening to what he’s saying. Some people say it comes with the quarterback, but I would say he’s got it, and then, plus, he’s a quarterback. That leadership ability is very unique.”
And natural. Tight end Zach Miller said Trubisky has “stuff you can’t teach.”
“He has all that package for that position for where he’s at,” Miller said. “You’ve either got it or you don’t, you know what I mean? He has all of it. He has that moxie with him, the swagger, where I really don’t think anything phases him.”
For a rebuilding team, that’s an important development. A new face of the franchise is taking over and can only get better on the field.
“He’s a calm guy, he’s humble, and he works his tail off, man,” Trevathan said. “He takes pride in his work. That’s what you want in your quarterback — a guy that’s going to work his tail off, grow with this team and push us.”
Follow me on Twitter @adamjahns.