Molding Mitch: How Bears' offseason focused on Trubisky

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- At first glance, Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky's rookie statistics are hardly befitting a player drafted second overall.

Trubisky, who replaced ineffective veteran Mike Glennon in Week 5 last season, went 4-8 as Chicago’s starting quarterback. He finished the year with 2,193 passing yards (59.4 completion percentage), seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. His passer rating was a pedestrian 77.5.

The 23-year-old quarterback, however, had moments of brilliance.

Trubisky’s 27-yard touchdown strike to tight end Dion Sims in the Bears’ 27-24 overtime win in Baltimore -- Trubisky’s second career start -- highlighted all of the traits Chicago general manager Ryan Pace coveted in the quarterback throughout the 2017 pre-draft process: mobility, accuracy and arm strength.

Trubisky routinely showed the ability to make plays with his feet. On numerous occasions, he scrambled outside the pocket to move the chains. He also displayed touch on the deep ball; the most memorable example occurring in Week 10 versus the Green Bay Packers when Trubisky hit wide receiver Joshua Bellamy perfectly in stride for a 46-yard touchdown.

Trubisky’s most efficient game was in a victory over Cincinnati in which he completed 25 of 32 passes for 271 yards and one touchdown (112.4 quarterback rating).

Still, Trubisky experienced the inevitable bumps in the road that plague almost every rookie quarterback.

Trubisky’s fourth-quarter turnover in his prime-time, regular-season debut cost the Bears a victory against division-rival Minnesota. The turnover bug bit Trubisky again later in the year when he tossed three interceptions in a road loss at Detroit.

At times, Trubisky, who started only 13 games at North Carolina, appeared to struggle when standing back in the pocket and processing downfield reads. For a mobile quarterback, he was sacked 31 times. Many of those sacks were a result of Trubisky holding the ball for too long.

But additional forces conspired against Trubisky -- aside from his relative lack of experience.

Former Bears head coach John Fox was ultra-conservative on offense, and therefore the weekly game plan devised by Fox’s playcaller, Dowell Loggains, was viewed by many as predictable and archaic.

In Loggains’ defense, the Bears had a relatively weak supporting cast around Trubisky, with notable exceptions being all-purpose threat Tarik Cohen and back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher Jordan Howard.

The Bears’ best wide receiver, Cameron Meredith, went down with a season-ending knee injury in the preseason.

Chicago’s top pass-catching tight end, Zach Miller, suffered a horrific knee dislocation in Week 8 that nearly cost him his leg, and most certainly ended his professional football career.

The Bears had just one receiver -- Kendall Wright (59) -- catch more than 50 passes in 2017.

Former second-round pick Adam Shaheen, a 6-foot-6 tight end, finished the year with 12 receptions for 127 yards. Dion Sims, whom the Bears touted as a two-way tight end and who was paid a guaranteed $10 million in free agency, ended the season with 15 catches.

All signs pointed to sweeping changes at Halas Hall, as the Bears ranked 32nd in passing offense, 30th in yards per game and 29th in scoring.

Pace knew he had to entrust Trubisky’s development to an offensive-minded head coach.

While Pace and Fox maintained a good working relationship -- until the moment Pace fired the veteran head coach -- the two had serious philosophical differences about offense. Whereas Fox subscribed to the old-school, run-first mentality, Pace preferred a more modern and open passing attack similar to what teams were running in Kansas City, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

So, after dismissing Fox (14-34 in Chicago) -- and by extension Loggains, who left to assist Adam Gase in Miami -- Pace moved quickly to hire Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy.

In Nagy, Pace found a coach well-versed in the Andy Reid style of West Coast offense. Nagy, who followed Reid from Philadelphia to Kansas City, served as the quarterbacks coach for Pro Bowler Alex Smith before assuming playcalling duties for the Chiefs at the tail end of the 2017 season.

An added bonus: Nagy did extensive pre-draft work on Trubisky the year before.

“I did think it helped that Kansas City was aggressive with their research [of Trubisky prior to the draft],” Pace said in January. “So, Matt knew a lot about Mitch and he said he had him in his facility all day long during that process. I know Mitch took a lot from Matt in that experience. But I felt like they already knew each other without having Mitch involved in the [actual coaching] interview [we had with Nagy].”

Nagy told reporters at his introductory news conference that he accepted the Bears’ offer based on a variety of reasons, but the first-time head coach's history with Trubisky played a significant role in the attractiveness of the Chicago opening.

“I had an opinion of Mitch [when I met him at the NFL combine] where he was kind of introverted and I felt scripted, which 95 percent of the guys are in that atmosphere,” Nagy said. "But we went ahead and took several quarterbacks that we were interested in and brought them in and basically had them for six or seven hours and let their personalities show, let them be who they are just in front of us. After six hours of being with Mitch, it was unbelievable. He did a wonderful job -- thought he’s a helluva person and thought he knew football inside and out.”

To further support Trubisky’s transition into the new offense, Nagy hired former Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich, who helped develop Heisman Trophy winner and Tennessee Titans star quarterback Marcus Mariota, to be Chicago’s offensive coordinator, and he retained Trubisky’s quarterbacks coach from last season, Dave Ragone.

On top of that, the Bears signed former Chiefs backup quarterbacks Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray, who both spent an inordinate amount of time around Nagy in Kansas City.

Trubisky remarked after the recent conclusion of voluntary minicamp that, “I feel like these last three days, I’ve been coached more than I ever have. I have Coach Helfrich, Coach Ragone, who was here last year with me, Coach Nagy, and then I come off the field when it’s not my reps and I talk to Tyler and I talk to Chase. Just having a bunch of brilliant offensive minds around me -- I’m just getting a lot of information. I’m trying to be a sponge, and it’s been a lot of fun working with those guys and learning as much as I can these last three days.”

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Better coaching alone won’t transform Trubisky into Chicago’s long-sought-after franchise quarterback.

Pace targeted upgrades at the skill positions at the onset of free agency, pursuing high-profile wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Allen Robinson.

Going all the way back to the combine, Robinson, who is recovering from a torn ACL, expressed a strong interest in joining the Bears. Watkins eventually took more money from the Chiefs ($30 million guaranteed), but the Bears and Robinson eventually agreed to a three-year deal that contained $25.2 million in guarantees.

Robinson is three seasons removed from catching 80 passes for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Jaguars.

“I'll be able to make his job easy,” Robinson said about Trubisky. “That's my goal. Again, that's what I came here for. I came here to make those plays, to make those catches, to make his job easy.”

Shortly after agreeing to terms with Robinson, the Bears added Eagles tight end Trey Burton ($22 million guaranteed) and Falcons wide receiver Taylor Gabriel.

Burton was essentially the third tight end for the Super Bowl champion Eagles, but the Bears envision Burton as their “U” tight end in Nagy’s offense -- a pass-catching threat who lines up all over the field to create mismatches.

Gabriel, whom the Bears list at 5-foot-6, 165 pounds, has explosive speed. The 27-year-old played both inside and outside for the Falcons.

The Bears completed their makeover of wide receiver/tight end by trading back into the second round of last week's draft to take Memphis’ Anthony Miller, who had 191 receptions for 2,896 yards and 32 touchdowns over the past two seasons. Nagy said last week that he envisions Miller playing in the slot as a rookie.

“As far as Mitch Trubisky goes, I know that he was a great quarterback as far as college goes and I know that he has a lot of potential in this league,” Miller said. “I can’t wait to partner up with him and just make a whole lot of plays. I’m ready.”

Chicago’s decision to invest another second-round pick on Iowa center James Daniels, who is expected to play guard for the Bears, also bodes well for Trubisky.

Daniels needs to increase his upper-body strength at the point of attack, but he moves as well as virtually any member -- next to sixth overall choice Quenton Nelson -- of the offensive line class.

With an interior offensive line that is likely to include Daniels, Kyle Long (right guard) and Cody Whitehair (center), the Bears are built to call plenty of inside zone run plays -- a staple of the Andy Reid offense -- for Howard. The more success the Bears have in the run game, the better Trubisky is likely to fare in the passing attack. There’s also an element of improved pass protection up the middle with Daniels taking over one of the starting guard roles.

Based on their offseason moves, the Bears believe Trubisky is well on his way to fulfilling his promise.

“The general consensus is that we did improve,” Nagy said last Saturday. “Now what you need to do is you need to do it on the field. It’s one thing to get guys on paper, and it’s our job now as coaches to take the handoff and develop these guys and teach them how to play the game within our system and within this building and how we’re going to do things.

“But I feel like we did definitely get better.”