From a traditional standpoint, there’s not much to be decided for the Chicago Bears at quarterback this preseason.
Mitchell Trubisky is going to be the starter and Chase Daniel is going to be the backup. They’ve got draft equity tied into Trubisky and money tied into Daniel, with the idea being that Daniel both uses his knowledge of Matt Nagy’s offense to mentor Trubisky and provide insurance against injury.
However, that’s not to say that the Bears are completely devoid of quarterback drama as they prepare for the Green Bay Packers on Sept. 9. The second half of Thursday night’s Hall of Fame Game against the Baltimore Ravens saw Tyler Bray lead a pair of scoring drives to get the Bears back into the game and a genuinely difficult decision was made no easier in the process.
For the first five years of his career, Bray has been a third-string quarterback in Kansas City. The former Tennessee standout showed enough natural talent to make the Chiefs roster as a rookie and, through injury, they’ve kept him around as the No. 3 quarterback because of the unique upside he presents.
We’re not going to sit here and try to sell you a bill of goods on Tyler Bray as a future difference-maker. But as far third-string quarterbacks are concerned, it’s hard to imagine a much better situation than carrying a guy like Bray.
At 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds, Bray is a big, strong quarterback with a big arm who knows the Nagy offense well. Traditionally, when you turn to a third starting quarterback you’re talking about a player who either has significant physical limitations or a player who you’re asking to learn your offense on the fly.
So to have a player like Bray who can make every throw and knows every in and out of the system is a luxury. But the drama comes into play with the decision on whether or not the Bears elect to carry a third quarterback at all.
The Bears didn’t sign a fourth quarterback as a developmental project that they could stash on the practice squad as a No. 3 quarterback. So that’s a feather in Bray’s cap.
Unfortunately, with a young roster and the likelihood that they’ll carry six wide receivers and potentially four running backs, going with two quarterbacks frees up a valuable roster spot. And Bray’s performance on Thursday probably didn’t do a lot to move the needle in either direction.
As you might expect with a 6-foot-6 quarterback, Bray was most comfortable and accurate throwing the football on in-breaking routes where his height allows him to see over the line of scrimmage. Playing primarily with young players who are learning how to be a professional and what Nagy’s system requires of them, he showed a pretty clear comfortability and commanded the offense nicely.
However, he had bouts with accuracy issues and probably missed a few opportunities to make adjustments pre-snap that could have prevented negative plays. With the nose uncovered on the fourth-and-one in the third quarter, he probably could have checked into a sneak and when a penalty extended that drive he probably should have felt the pressure and stepped into the pocket to avoid the strip-sack that came later in the drive.
But as he developed some trust with seventh-round pick Javon Wims (which began with Wims making a great play on a jump ball down the left sideline to open the fourth quarter), the offense was at its best in the fourth quarter. Outside of a bad miss on a fade to Wims in the endzone before the field goal that made it 17-10, Bray was solid in the fourth quarter.
On the final drive in particular, he hit Wims for a third-down conversion, put a solid ball on Daniel Brown that was dropped up the seem and then came back with another strike to Wims to convert another third-down. The next play he hit Demarcus Ayers for a nice gain before finding Wims yet again, this time for a big fourth-down conversion.
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On the touchdown pass, Bray unleashed a bullet to hit Tanner Gentry in stride as he came out of his break on the whip. Then on the two-point conversion, Bray did well to avoid pressure before just missing his intended target in the back of the endzone.
Even on the failed final drive, Bray delivered arguably his best ball of the day on the third-and-10 leading into the two-minute warning, hitting Colin Thompson in the numbers while standing in the pocket and taking a shot from a blitzing defender. Thompson dropped it and the game ended on a misfire the very next play, but it was still a solid overall showing for Bray.
The problem is, we don’t know how much weight the coaching staff will put into an only slightly above-average performance in a game where 15-plus starters on both sides plus many other key contributors were sitting. He didn’t hurt himself by any means, but the simple reality is that proving there’s value in carrying three quarterbacks will be done on the practice field and in meeting rooms for Bray.
Because if they try to sneak Bray onto the practice squad, there’s no guarantee he won’t be signed to somebody’s 53-man roster.
But is carrying three quarterbacks in a season that is almost sure to be lost if Trubisky gets hurt anyways really the wisest use of a roster spot? That’s the question that Nagy and company must ask.
The answer, unfortunately for Bray, won’t be an easy one either way. Meaning he’s in for a long sweat as he ponders his future this preseason.