‘Iron sharpens iron’: Bears’ D playing key role in Mitch Trubisky’s development

Ever so subtly, Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky seemed to take a little umbrage at the notion that the defense is ahead of the offense during offseason practices.

“Who said that?” Trubisky asked.

Coach Matt Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, he was told.

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Mitchell Trubisky

Mitch Trubisky stretches with teammates at OTAs. | Nam Y. Huh/AP Photo

“Oh, did they?” Trubisky responded. “Yeah, it is what it is. We kind of expect that with coach [Vic] Fangio being here in the past and having a lot of [players] back on defense.

“But it’s good for us. It’s just gonna make us better on offense. And as a competitor, you take that to heart and come out here and compete in every single drill. But at the end of the day, we’re brothers. We’re family. Iron sharpens iron. But we need to know we’re in this together.”

There’s no doubt that Trubisky and the  offense as a whole has a big step to take this season. Trubisky was 4-8 with a 77.5 passer rating in 12 starts as a rookie. The offense ranked 30th in total yards, 23rd in yards per play, 32nd in passing yards per game and 25th in passing yards per play.

And they’ll have to make that jump while learning a new offense under Nagy and Helfrich — a fairly complicated one where everybody needs to know not only their own responsibility, but what everybody else is doing, as well.

But this offense will have one advantage that those previous coordinators, for the most part, did not: an established, quality defense in its fourth season under Fangio to work against. The bulk of the defensive starters/regulars — defensive end Akiem Hicks, nose tackle Eddie Goldman, linebackers Danny Trevathan, Leonard Floyd, Sam Acho and Nick Kwiatkoski and defensive backs Kyle Fuller, Adrian Amos, Bryce Callahan and Cre’von LeBlanc — have two years or more invested in Fangio’s defense.

It isn’t quite the scourge of the NFL, but the Bears’ defense has legitimate top-10 aspirations. They were 10th in the NFL in total defense last season, 11th in yards allowed per play and ninth in points allowed. They have 10 players returning who started five or more games, plus defensive end Jonathan Bullard, who started the final two games in place of Mitch Unrein. The team fortified the defense with the addition of linebacker Roquan Smith, the eighth overall pick in the NFL Draft.

And already in organized team activities, you can see the potential for a pretty good — and pretty healthy — rivalry developing between an offense invigorated by Nagy, Trubisky and the addition of receiving threats Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, Taylor Gabriel and rookie Anthony Miller, and a defense that wants to make the NFL take notice this season.

“[At] this time of year, whether it’s OTAs or spring football, there’s always some boom-and-bust type of moments,” Helfrich said “Sometimes it’s bad luck one way or another, and sometimes it’s just one guy [who] did either the right or wrong thing on either side. But there’s been good back-and-forth from a competitive standpoint to this point.”

Trubisky acknowledged the defense’s role in the development of the offense and the competitiveness between the two phases. But there are going to be some unfair rough spots with such a disparity in chemistry on each side of the ball. It’s all part of the process — for now anyway.

You get the impression that Trubisky can’t wait to really get his licks in when the offense is on a more level playing field.

“It’s going great. Getting better every day,” Trubisky said. “Learning a new offense. Just groovin’ it. Making mistakes and trying to not make the same mistakes twice. But we’re having fun. We’re competing. The defense is looking really good. It’s just great to compete against them every day because we’re making each other better on both sides.”

Nagy also noted the defense’s role when asked about Trubisky’s progress. And the growth he has made.

“He’s starting to see some coverages now,” Nagy said. “Coach Fangio and his guys are doing a good job of mixing different coverages and disguising different looks. So for Mitchell to be able to see those looks on tape, he’s building his own library within this offense.

“We don’t have to watch Kansas City’s offense anymore. We’re building our library now, and he’s able to see how it works against our defense and try to not make those mistakes and make the correct adjustments.”

Veteran minicamp is June 5-7, but it probably won’t be until training camp when we’ll see just how much the offense has caught up to the defense. But Trubisky can see it happening already.

“I think [the chemistry] is building fast,” Trubisky said. “From the guys we’ve got — Taylor Gabriel,  Bennie Fowler, Marlon Brown, Kevin White, and when Allen Robinson comes back … Trey Burton and a great tight end room … we’ve got so many weapons, I’m excited to get them all the ball.

“So it’s all about everyone learning the offense, building that chemistry together and getting better every day. It’s coming along well. The more reps you get, the better off we’re going to be. We’ve gotten better from Day 1 already, so we’re making progress for sure.”