Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles are going head-to-head in training camp for the starting job
While the COVID-19 pandemic has forced teams to change their offseason programs, adjust to new protocols, and cancel this year's preseason games, the NFL is hoping for a successful 2020 campaign of some kind. No preseason means that teams won't be able to use game conditions to evaluate their talent. Which puts the Bears in a tight spot because they have a quarterback competition on their hands this season.
So without the benefit of a live pass rush, and a limited amount of full-contact practices at their disposal, the Bears will have to think outside of the box in order to decide who wins the starter role between Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles, and whether or not to keep Tyler Bray. Those are the signal-callers who are hoping to get this team back to the playoffs this season. Head coach Matt Nagy and his staff certainly have their work cut out for them. Here is what each quarterback brings to the table.
The second overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft hasn't fully lived up to his billing. Entering his fourth NFL season, the North Carolina alum has been a mixed bag, to say the least. Trubisky endured the rigors of a difficult rookie campaign in 2017, which was the last year of the John Fox era. But when Trubisky helped guide the Bears to the NFC North title in '18 (which earned him a spot in that year's Pro Bowl), it was believed that Nagy was the "quarterback whisperer" that he needed.
When the Ohio native regressed last season, it left everyone wondering what went wrong. There are some Bears fans who have now given up on Trubisky entirely. His back-and-forth career forced the front office's hand this offseason, as the team declined the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. Trubisky is now playing for his NFL future.
He has pretty good numbers across three seasons despite his shortcomings (63.4 percent completion rate, 8,554 passing yards, 48 TD passes, 6.7 ypa, 85.8 passer rating), and has pretty good arm strength. Trubisky can also use his feet when needed (862 rush yards, 5.5 ypc, 7 TDs), occasionally catches defenses off guard, and has a sense of fearlessness in his game.
Unfortunately, that fearlessness has caused Trubisky to make poor decisions at times. He's thrown double-digit interceptions in both of the last two seasons, and he's taken 93 sacks in his career — too many unnecessary hits for comfort. He's also displayed a hesitation to take chances with deep throws downfield and doesn't always throw balls away when the situation calls for it.
Trubisky will need to have the best season of his career if he wants to remain in a Bears uniform.
In a showing of how serious general manager Ryan Pace was about pushing Trubisky, at the very least, he once again dug into the team's draft capital to swing a trade with the Jaguars for Foles, who's heading into his ninth pro season. It turned out to be a win-win for both sides, as the Jags were looking to start anew under center with Garnder Minshew II. While Foles isn't exactly the most polished product, he's a much more proven commodity than Trubisky is. The Bears will be the fifth different team that Foles has suited up for in the last six seasons, but his skill set has allowed him to find staying power in the league. This isn't the first time that Foles has had to compete with a teammate for the starting job, so he's more than ready for this challenge.
A proven veteran with the numbers to back it up (61.9 percent completion rate, 11,901 passing yards, 71 TD passes, 7.0 ypa, 88.2 passer rating), Foles also has a Super Bowl ring, a Super Bowl MVP award (LII), and a Pro Bowl appearance on his resume (2013). He previously worked with Nagy in both Philadelphia (2012) and Kansas City ('16), and he's also played under Andy Reid and Doug Pederson, who all come from the same coaching tree as Nagy. They all run similar offenses, and because of that, Foles is already familiar with Nagy's playbook. He has a strong, accurate arm, and is pretty sound with his decision making.
Like Trubisky, Foles has also had his encounters with the injury bug. He's never played a full 16-game season — his career-high is 13 games back in 2013 — and has always alternated between starter and backup. Foles has been questioned about his durability at times.
On paper, at least, Foles already has what it takes to be the starter. But he'll have to earn the job, and he must stay healthy.
The former Tennessee standout is now in his eighth NFL season and his third with the Bears. Bray has never started a game, and he only has one career pass attempt under his belt. He's also bounced back and forth between the active roster and the practice squad. But through the years, he's received positive reviews from teammates and coaches alike, which is why he's still in the league.
His relationship with Nagy dates back to 2013 in Kansas City. When Bray first joined the league, Nagy was the Chiefs offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach. Bray knows the ins and outs of Nagy's offense, and he's constantly praised as a good teammate and coachable player.
Bray may be present at practices and team meetings, but his lack of game experience stands out. He's only appeared in a single regular-season game — where he threw one incomplete pass in 2017 — so his only game tape comes in the preseason. It'll be interesting to see how many practice reps he gets this summer, with the preseason being eliminated. If both Trubisky and Foles were to get injured for a considerable length of time, there's no clear indication as to whether or not the Bears can succeed with Bray under center.
Bray will have to do a damn good job of convincing the Bears to keep three QBs for the regular season, as the league has moved towards only carrying two signal-callers. However, he is still practice-squad eligible under new CBA rules.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Top photos courtesy of chicagobears.com)