Seeing is believing: Six examples of where Bears see growth in Mitch Trubisky

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Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky runs off the field after losing to the 49ers. (AP)

Adam L. Jahns’ “Inside the Huddle” column appears in game-day editions of the Chicago Sun-Times.

The Bears’ belief in rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky is rooted in what’s taking place on the field. His development shows up in big plays, but also ones that go unnoticed.

With Trubisky making the last start of his rookie season Sunday against the Vikings, here’s an inside look at what the Bears are seeing when it comes to his growth:

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Using his cadence

The play: On third-and-seven from the Bears’ 18 in the second quarter against the Browns, Trubisky completed a five-yard pass to wide receiver Josh Bellamy.

What the Bears saw: Trubisky’s cadence led to the Browns tipping their blitz — center Hroniss Grasu called it a “double mug twist inside” — and the protection was changed.

The Browns’ linebackers still blitzed, but Trubisky stepped up into the pocket and completed his throw.

“We got a tip of their blitz, and we got to pick it up,” Grasu said. “It’s just little details that Mitch is doing that really, really help us out.”

That always wasn’t the case. As Jon Gruden pointed out during his “QB Camp” show on ESPN, Trubisky had to learn how to use a hard count.

Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said that Trubisky began trusting his cadence more in the second half against the Eagles.

In Week 15 against the Lions, Loggains said Trubisky drew neutral-zone-infraction and encroachment penalties in the second quarter with his cadence.

“When he first got here, his cadence was not a weapon for him,” Loggains said. “It’s starting to become that.”

From 1 to 2 to …

The play: On second-and-11 from the Lions’ 40 in the third quarter in Detroit, Trubisky completed a 16-yard pass to Bellamy over the middle.

What the Bears saw: Trubisky went through his first progressions, then came back to Bellamy’s route for the completion and the first down.

“Those in-cuts and stuff that [Trubisky is] hitting on the backside, sometimes that’s No. 3 or No. 4 on the progression,” Loggains said. “For him to get there, he’s been right in reading the coverage going across the board.”

The Bears have seen more of that since his first start in Week  5 against the Vikings. It starts with Trubisky’s comfort in the pocket.

Trubisky stepped up to evade pressure, kept his eyes down the field and delivered a strike.

“He trusts the people in front of him; that’s another thing that people [at Halas Hall] see in this offense,” fullback Michael Burton said. “It does take time . . . but that’s the plays you got to look at and be like, ‘Wow, this kid’s got it.’ ”

Seeing more, believing more

The play(s): Against the Bengals, Kendall Wright had 10 receptions for 107 yards — the best performance by a Bears receiver this season.

What the Bears saw: Trubisky and Wright connected on option routes throughout the game — plays that weren’t used early on.

Loggains said the Bears’ offense didn’t feature many option routes for Jay Cutler, and their use remains a work in progress for Trubisky.

Against the Lions in Week 15, Tarik Cohen came out of the backfield and cut outside, while Trubisky threw inside. But option routes are now part of the Bears’ offense because Trubisky has a better understanding of coverages.

Overall, Trubisky has been allowed to audible and check more, too. He’s signaling receivers to change their routes.

“You can’t run option routes unless your quarterback can anticipate coverage,” Loggains said. “Now, he’s been able to start doing that stuff. That’s why Kendall’s production has gone up [21 catches in the last three games]. It’s helped us on third down passing.”

Accepting a lost play

The play: On third-and-11 from the Bears’ 17 in the fourth quarter against the Browns, Trubisky scrambled to his right, slid and took a sack for a three-yard loss.

What the Bears saw: Trubisky realized that a screen play to Cohen was sniffed out by the Browns to his left and didn’t force the throw.

It speaks to Trubisky’s understanding of situational football. The safe decision was the best decision. A mistake would’ve been costly with the Bears leading 20-3.

“[It was] smart because in Cincinnati, he threw the ball down the field when he shouldn’t have,” Loggains said. “[It’s] just a smart play at that point in the game. In the fourth quarter, we’d taken all the air out of the ball. Run, run, screen on third down, and they were very aware the whole gameof where Tarik was.”

Being on time

The play: On third-and-18 from the Bears’ 39 in the third quarter against the Lions in Week 15, Trubisky completed a 22-yard pass to wide receiver Markus Wheaton.

What the Bears saw: Trubisky not only stood strong under pressure after defensive end Anthony Zettel beat reserve lineman Bradley Sowell, but he trusted the timing of the play and his eyes.

Loggains said that Wheaton was Trubisky’s first read on a seven-step drop. He delivered a pass through three defenders.

“Against Minnesota [in his first start], he would have scrambled,” Loggains said. “Instead, he set and he knew, ‘I’ve got to be fearless in the pocket. I’ve got to make this throw.’ And he sticks the in-cut before Wheaton broke.”

Taking full control

The play: On second-and-20 from the Bears’ 15 in the third quarter against the Lions, Trubisky completed a 19-yard pass to Wright.

What the Bears saw: Trubisky recognized immediately that Cohen lined up on the wrong side of the field and corrected him.

In the early going, the Bears wanted Trubisky to focus on himself.

“When he called a play, he was anticipating on everybody getting lined up right,” Loggains said. “The reality is that it doesn’t happen all the time. You’ve got to maestro this thing.”

Tight end Zach Miller actually served as Loggains’ “maestro” before suffering his knee injury. Since then, Trubisky has taken more control.

“He’s starting to do a much better job of that,” Loggains said. “There’s slow steps there. He doesn’t own it still, but he’s getting close.”

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@luisiii23: What are the chances the Bears hire [Patriots offensive coordinator] Josh McDaniels? Who is the best candidate for the head-coaching job?

A: I have my doubts that the Bears will even bring in McDaniels for an interview. He deserves consideration because of all his success in New England, but he’s looking for the right situation for himself after he flamed out with the Broncos in his first head-coaching stint. He is mentioned as a candidate seemingly every year for teams. But it’s widely thought that McDaniels wants full control — much like Patriots coach Bill Belichick has — and that he also prefers to be paired with Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio as his general manager. That would require a major overhaul at Halas Hall. It’s also unclear if Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia strongly prefers the same. All that said, my list would include these six names: current Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio (hear him out), Stanford coach David Shaw, Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy and Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. It also wouldn’t be surprising if Chiefs special-teams coordinator Dave Toub gets a call from his former team.

@KrisArmstrong1: How healthy is [Josh] Sitton? I’m of the mind to cut Josh, saving $8 million-ish, and drafting [Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson]. Nelson, [Cody] Whitehair and [Kyle] Long are an imposing group.

A: Nelson is a top-10 talent. Some scouts believe he’s one of the best players in the draft. So, yes, an inside trio of Nelson, Whitehair and Long would be formidable. As for Sitton, the Bears have a team option for him in 2018 to consider. His play has dipped. He’s no longer the consistent player he was for the Packers. It starts with his availability. He has dealt with various injuries with the Bears after missing only two starts in seven seasons for the Packers. He’s currently dealing with an ankle issue. He’s officially listed as doubtful for Sunday against the Vikings.

EXTRA POINTS

Looking ahead

It’s easy to say that the Bears need a bit of everything to improve as a team for the 2018 season. But it’s important that the Bears prioritize certain positions.

Here are our top five needs with the 2017 season concluding Sunday against the Vikings:

1. Edge rusher: Once considered a strength, it has become an old, banged-up group with Pernell McPhee and Willie Young looking like salary-cap cuts in the near future. Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd needs help.

2. Receiver: The only reason receiver isn’t No. 1 is because teams prove every year that it’s a position that can be overhauled quickly. The Rams and Eagles just did it for their young quarterbacks, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz.

3. Cornerback: Do you re-sign Kyle Fuller? What about Prince Amukamara? It’s considered a good year for cornerbacks in the draft.

4. Offensive line: The Bears need help at guard and right tackle. Some scouts feel better about this year’s draft class for offensive linemen than in previous years.

5. Inside linebacker: Danny Trevathan hasn’t played a full season for the Bears.

Focusing on Fox

The Bears have been viewed as coach John Fox’s final coaching stop, given his age (he turns 62 in February) and it being his third head-coaching opportunity.

But with 10 or 11 openings expected across the NFL, it wouldn’t be surprising if Fox received a call or two — should he be fired.

“I haven’t really thought about it,” Fox said Friday when asked if he has considered how long he wants to coach. “We’ve still got this game. I don’t do much of that contemplating until the offseason. So we’re not quite there yet.”

Fox, though, was more defiant earlier in the week.

“I’ve never had trouble getting employment in this league,” Fox said. “And I’m not going to start worrying about it now.”

— Adam L. Jahns

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