Dougherty: Bears following Aaron Rodgers formula with Mitch Trubisky

Pete Dougherty
Packers News
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Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (10) warms up before an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 24, 2017.

If the Chicago Bears finally got it right, this could be the last game before they close their great quarterback gap with the Green Bay Packers.

Mike Glennon will be coach John Fox’s starter against the Packers on Thursday night when the NFL’s oldest rivals meet for the 195th time.

But sooner or later this season, and very possibly by the teams’ next meeting Nov. 12, the player Bears general manager Ryan Pace traded up to pick No. 2 overall in this year’s draft, Mitch Trubisky, could be their starter.

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And just what would it mean if the Bears found their first good quarterback since Jim McMahon in the 1980s or, could it be, their first great one since Sid Luckman?

Well, consider this stat: During the Brett Favre-Aaron Rodgers era, the Packers are 37-14 against the Bears. That’s a .726 winning percentage.

And consider this: During the Favre-Rodgers era, the Bears have had 30 different quarterbacks start a game, according to Pro Football Reference.

“The Packers are blessed to have Favre and Aaron Rodgers,” said a scout for an NFC team this week when told of that head-to-head record. “… You can squander away season after season if you can’t find (a quarterback).”

Fox is on the weekly watch that quarterback-needy teams are always on when they draft one in the first round. Since training camp, it has been: When will Trubisky start?

In a mild surprise, Trubisky played well enough in the preseason (106.2 rating) to possibly change Fox’s plans of starting Glennon. But even after an 0-2 start, Fox stuck with the veteran, and the Bears’ overtime win over Pittsburgh last week bought at least a week of peace.

There’s no one way to handle this. Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, the first and second picks in the 2015 draft, have been starters since Day 1, and both look like promising franchise players early in their third seasons. Same for Carson Wentz, the No. 2 pick last year.

Jared Goff (No. 1 last year), on the other hand, didn’t become a starter until game 10 last season and even with the acclimation period was clearly overwhelmed (0-6). He’s 2-1 this year.

Anyone who follows the NFL knows that Rodgers fell on the other extreme. He sat for three seasons behind Favre before becoming a starter, much to his benefit.

“I think the players are more ready to play now than guys were when I was coming out,” Rodgers said on a teleconference with reporters who cover the Bears. “But for me, it was the best thing that happened to me, being able to sit for three years and learn behind a Hall of Famer, learn the game, get myself in good shape and get ready to play in Year 4.”

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Fox is doing it right sitting Trubisky early this season, based on Trubisky’s inexperience at North Carolina (13 starts). But the scout said he wouldn’t sit Trubisky much longer than five games, and he doubted that Fox will, either.

“At some point, John is going to have to play the young guy to save his job, even though they won last week,” the scout said.  

Rodgers is the ultimate recent example of sitting and learning. Steve Young was even more extreme. After two seasons in Tampa Bay, Young sat behind Joe Montana for four years before becoming a starter at age 30 and having a Pro Football Hall of Fame career. That was clearly too long.

Rodgers was 25 when he became the Packers’ starter in 2008.

“You can kind of come along at your own speed,” Rodgers said of waiting. “You’re obviously not dealing with the pressure every week of having to perform, which is a real thing.”

Trubisky will be a much different style quarterback than the Bears’ long list of journeymen they’ve played against the Packers over the last 25 years. His 4.67-second 40 is .04 of a second faster than Rodgers, who is one of the best scrambling quarterbacks in the league. (As recently as last February, Rodgers has insisted his combine time actually was 4.66 seconds).

“(Trubisky) is going to give them a component they haven’t had,” said another scout with an NFC team. “(Jay) Cutler would run for a short distance and slide. This guy can actually run like a (Deshaun) Watson, I thought he was comparable when he decided to take off and go down the field.

“As far as throwing it, a good right-hand passer, stands tall in the pocket, he’ll stand under pressure and deliver. His accuracy was good, very good, not great. … You’re going to have to squeeze him (with the pass rush) from the interior, because if you let him outside and he has the option to run or pass, he will do some damage.”

Though Trubisky was the first quarterback picked, he wasn’t the consensus No. 1 quarterback in this year’s draft. Patrick Mahomes (No. 10 to Kansas City) and Watson (No. 12 to Houston) were atop other teams’ draft boards.

But Pace identified him as his guy and paid a stiff price to ensure he got him. The Bears had the No. 3 pick overall but Pace still traded three picks (two third-rounders and a fourth) to move up one spot to take him.

Maybe Pace could have sat tight and gotten Trubisky at No. 3. But if you don’t have a quarterback and you have a good feeling about a guy, you have to pull the trigger. Pace has staked his job on it. If Trubisky busts, Pace very well could get fired, and someone else would get next shot at finding the Bears’ quarterback for the future.

Trubisky is the third quarterback the Bears have drafted since ’92. The others were Cade McNown (1999) and Rex Grossman (2003). They also traded two first-round picks, a third-rounder and Kyle Orton to Denver in 2009 for Cutler, a gifted thrower who never got over the hump because of fatal leadership and decision-making flaws.

Maybe the cycle will keep turning, and a few years from now, the Bears again will be drafting a quarterback in the first round. Or maybe this time, they’ve finally closed the quarterback gap with the Packers.

The latter was the judgment of both aforementioned scouts.

“(Trubisky) was worth the trade but they need to ease him,” the first scout said. “Hold the clipboard a while.”

Said the other: “I think he’s going to be pretty good.”


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