Factors outside Bears' control altered QB competition. But Nagy remains confident right result will emerge from camp battle.
CHICAGO — Throughout the Super Bowl era — and even before — the Bears’ best-laid plans at quarterback often go awry.
With the benefit of hindsight, those plans usually devolve into “What in the world were they thinking?!?” as they navigate from one option to the next. Not all of the team’s quarterback misfortune has been of its own doing. Some has been bad luck or poor timing.
There was the coin flip the Bears lost to the Steelers in 1970 for the No. 1 pick. Heads or tails meant the difference between Terry Bradshaw and the No. 2 pick, which the Bears ended up trading to the Packers.
There was the time during the 1997 season when the Bears were set to bring in a little-known Arena League standout from the Iowa Barnstormers for a tryout. Kurt Warner had to cancel at the last moment after his right arm swelled up, reportedly the result of a spider bite suffered on his honeymoon. Who knows if the Bears would have liked what they saw from Warner and signed him? Just imagine how his Hall of Fame career could have unfolded at Soldier Field.
Now the Bears are forced to manage their first full-blown quarterback competition since the summer of 2008 — Rex Grossman versus Kyle Orton — during the COVID-19 pandemic without any preseason games, which is what coach Matt Nagy said in March would be the most important factor in deciding between Mitch Trubisky and newcomer Nick Foles.
Worse, the ramp-up period the NFL has instituted for training camps prohibits any practices in full pads until Aug. 17-27, further limiting the Bears’ chances to view each player before the Sept. 13 season opener in Detroit.
The unique circumstances of this season will affect every team in similar ways. In Green Bay, the Packers are looking to get better production from their wide receivers and were dealt a blow when Devin Funchess reportedly opted out of the 2020 season. The clock will be ticking in all 32 camps, but legitimate quarterback competitions are rare and bring a heightened sense of urgency.
Nagy hasn’t outlined a timeline for a decision and is unlikely to divulge it anyway, but in a perfect world the Bears would have their depth chart mostly set two weeks before facing the Lions to maximize what preparation time there is. Do the math and that doesn’t leave a lot of competitive practice periods to arrive at a winner.
What Nagy did pledge is transparency with Trubisky and Foles as the competition unfolds.
“We talk as coaches and we play scenarios out too,” he said Wednesday. “We’re just like everybody else. And we say the one thing we’re going to do is, if we have however many padded practices it is, or however many total practices you have with competitive periods, as we’re going through this thing, if one of the quarterbacks is stinking it up and he’s playing like crap, we’re going to tell you you’re playing like crap.
“And we’re going to tell you that in front of the other one. They’re both going to know when someone’s playing good or someone’s playing bad. So when the time comes when we inevitably need to make a decision, trust me, it’s not going to be a surprise to them. That’s where open communication helps.”
Nagy and his staff are finishing the process of designing the practice schedule, filling it with as many competitive periods as possible to evenly evaluate the quarterback situation as well as battles at right cornerback, strong safety and right guard. They’re practicing to identify their best 53 players and prepare the entire group for the season, but the lens on Trubisky and Foles will be magnified by everyone.
What does a battle with such limited evaluation time look like?
“It’s hard to do that in walk-throughs, it’s hard to do that in meetings, even if they’re in person,” Nagy said. “But when we get a chance to go out there, we’re evaluating those quarterbacks with every single play. Not just throw, but every single check that they make at the line of scrimmage, every bit of leadership that they show in and out of the huddle, we’re there watching how they react to a specific play in practice. That got squeezed down a little bit.”
Foles is at a disadvantage in that he missed the organized work on the field in May and June, when he could have picked up valuable reps in the passing game, developed timing with wide receivers and tight ends and learned nuances of each player on specific plays and routes. Nagy acknowledged as much.
That is mitigated in part by the comfort level the coaching staff — Nagy, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo — has with Foles from working with him on other teams. Foles is going to understand exactly what they’re saying. He doesn’t need to learn how they coach an offense that he already knows.
Along those lines, if the Bears were comfortable with Trubisky, there wouldn’t have been a trade for Foles — who is guaranteed $21 million — and an open competition for a job that was handed to the former No. 2 pick one month into the 2017 season. The Bears would have happily picked up the fifth-year option for 2021 in Trubisky’s contract if they were fully on board with him. They declined it.
“Neither one of them should go out there and try to do too much,” Nagy said. “They just need to be themselves when they’re out there, play football and let the results take care of themselves. They’re both really good people. So in the room, it’s going to be really good there. (DeFilippo) is going to do a great job fundamentally getting them right.”
General manager Ryan Pace underscored the importance of letting the process play out naturally and indicated he would be involved in the final decision.
“The good thing with Matt is it’s constant dialogue, constant communication, constant collaboration between him and (me) and his coaching staff and the personnel staff,” Pace said. “So, like everything we do, it’ll be a collaborative decision.”
It’s possible as the Bears choose between options A and B, they could wind up with C — the realization that neither player is the answer. Factors totally out of the Bears’ control have forced the best-laid plans for this competition to change, and they are going about it the best way possible considering the circumstances and the urgency to significantly upgrade an offense with a playoff-ready defense.
“It’ll come to us,” Nagy said. “It’ll all, in the end, show up and show what it’s supposed to be. So we feel very confident about that.”
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