The 2017 season was all about acclimation for Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.
He spent four games on the bench sitting behind Mike Glennon before using the bye week and an extra day to prep for his debut game on a Monday night against the Minnesota Vikings. Over the course of the next 12 weeks, it was more about learning to see in color for the first time than anything.
After all, Trubisky had spent just one year as a starter in college. That season he ran a black-and-white spread offense that put him in shotgun 98 percent of the time, allowing him the luxury of relatively simple reads courtesy of run-pass options. In Dowell Loggains’ offense, things were a lot different.
To top it all off, the supporting cast was abysmal, particularly at wide receiver. After letting Alshon Jeffery walk in free agency, injuries cut down Cameron Meredith and Kevin White, the expected top two options, leaving Trubisky with a rag-tag bunch of pass-catchers.
The fact he was still able to put up even average numbers in his rookie season despite all those factors working against him leaves plenty of room for optimism. He completed 59.4 percent of his passes and took care of the football, throwing just 7 interceptions in 330 pass attempts while leading the Bears to 4 wins and 4 more losses of 8 or fewer points.
Even if everything had stayed the same in Chicago, it’d have been reasonable to expect Trubisky to take a step forward in 2018. However, now that everything has changed, it may be more like a leap.
Seemingly overnight — or, more accurately, over the last two months — the Bears have remade their offense in a way that takes advantage of everything Trubisky has to offer.
New head coach Matt Nagy has shown he’s more than willing to incorporate run-pass option elements that the former North Carolina quarterback is well-versed in. Yet, he’ll also still have the benefit of a year under center in a more traditional scheme to buoy the reality that adjustments, primarily pre-snap, are required to run spread concepts in the NFL.
Trubisky also should have the benefit of an offensive line that is healthier, more versatile and more talented. Kyle Long has had multiple offseason procedures and is feeling good, while the addition of James Daniels opens up the possibility of different combinations on the interior thanks to him and Cody Whitehair’s ability to play both guard and center.
However, most importantly, the Bears have made a concerted effort to add playmakers everywhere you look. It started in free agency with the additions of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton.
All Robinson has to do is be healthy by September, and we know that he gives this offense a dependable No. 1 option on the outside capable of taking over games. Gabriel stretches the field vertically from the inside and he and running back Tarik Cohen may combine to replicate what Nagy got out of Tyreek Hill as the offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Then there’s Burton. He’ll be able to line up across all formations to create mismatches of all shapes and sizes against linebackers and safeties who are either too slow or too small to cover him.
And let’s not forget the couple potential assets that return. Jordan Howard will be used along with Cohen to give the Bears a rushing attack that should continue to provide stability. While tight end Adam Shaheen is still a giant with the potential to be a red-zone threat at worst.
There’s also Kevin White, who still has the athleticism to be a threat on the outside opposite Robinson. We’re not relying on that coming to fruition by any means, but if it does, that certainly adds another layer of potential to this offense.
Luckily, the Bears also managed not to let themselves get wrapped up in the idea of White suddenly staying healthy and becoming productive. They traded back into the second round to draft Memphis wide receiver Anthony Miller and that selection opens up even more exciting possibilities for Trubisky and this Bears offense.
NFL Network analyst Matt Harmon, the best wide receiver analyst out there for our money, did a detailed breakdown of Miller’s game at Memphis and the data shows us a lot about how Chicago might choose to use Miller.
In the six games of tape he watched, Miller had an above average success rate up and down the route tree. Despite his size, he showed the ability to make contested catches in traffic on in-breaking routes like slants, curls and digs while also showing typical slot ability to make people miss in the open field.
However, what was most exciting was how frequently he was successful down the field. Over 30 percent of the routes he ran during that six-game sample were flys and posts, and he was remarkably productive on those routes.
Harmon compares him to Doug Baldwin in that regard, and with Nagy making it clear that he intends to push the ball down the field, this all makes Miller an immediate asset. The only immediate issue that comes to mind is that Gabriel, Miller and Burton all tend to do their best work off the line of scrimmage with a free release. That’s obviously not possible if they’re all on the field at the same time.
But that’s something that should sort itself out in training camp and the preseason. Still, it all adds up to Trubisky being given an assortment of weapons that can and will be used in a varied offensive attack. And we haven’t even discussed how Trubisky’s legs might factor into the plans.
Even in a more traditional offensive system, Trubisky’s 4.67-second 40-yard dash speed provided ample opportunities for him to get outside the pocket and make plays with his legs. He rushed for 248 yards and 2 touchdowns on 41 attempts in 2017.
And Nagy showed plenty of creativity with designed quarterback runs to keep defenses honest in Kansas City. Alex Smith rushed for 355 yards on 60 carries last season, and it had been 12 years since Smith posted his 4.7-second 40-yard dash at the combine.
Ultimately, this is a longer more detailed way of saying that this Bears offense can attack in just about every conceivable way. That doesn’t mean that they will be the league’s best offense overnight or that things will be easy.
Trubisky will still have growing pains to deal with and the offensive line still hasn’t built the depth to withstand serious injury. However, when you consider that everybody mentioned in this story is 27 or younger with the exception of Long (29) and Baldwin (doesn’t play for the Bears), the long-term potential is incredibly exciting.
Every Bears player mentioned here, except White, has at least two years left on their current contract. So this isn’t a 2018 or bust offense. It’s built to last. The Bears have two years before they even have to start considering an extension for Trubisky and as many as six years of realistic contractual control (fifth-year option and two franchise tags) to decide if he’s their quarterback of the future.
And they’ve clearly given him every opportunity this offseason to be successful going forward.