Trubisky Ready To Fight For Future: 'Now Is The Time'

Those who know Mitchell Trubisky well believe he can rise to the occasion in 2020.

Chris Emma
June 02, 2020 - 12:44 pm
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(670 The Score) On the afternoon of March 18, shortly after the Bears agreed to acquire veteran quarterback Nick Foles in a trade with the Jaguars, a text came across the phone of Mitchell Trubisky.

It was from Kade McClure, one of Trubisky's closest friends growing up in Mentor, Ohio and a pitcher in the White Sox organization. Trubisky and McClure have leaned on each other for motivation during their respective sports careers, and McClure was checking in to see how Trubisky was handling the news of a quarterback battle with Foles.

Trubisky responded right away.

"Let's go," Trubisky texted McClure. Let's go!"

"Now is the time," he added. "Let's do it."

Chicago is wondering how Trubisky will respond after a disappointing 2019. He must fight for a future with the Bears after the team declined his fifth-year option in 2021, and his challenge is to beat out Foles to earn his place back as the Bears' starting quarterback.

Trubisky regressed in 2019, completing 63.2 percent of his passes for 3,138 yards, 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 15 games. His individual struggles stemmed from accuracy issues and problems making reads. They were issues the Bears believed would be behind Trubisky in his third NFL season.

Selected second overall by the Bears in 2017, Trubisky is facing uncertainty ahead. While there's plenty of external discussion about how he'll handle it, many within his tight-knit support system see Trubisky truly embracing the challenge ahead.

"Mitch isn't a guy who's going to let the blame fall elsewhere," McClure said in a phone interview. "He'll take it, he'll accept it, he'll own it. 

"He's embracing the challenge. It's not necessarily a challenge of Nick Foles. It's a challenge to the city of Chicago and the Bears to say, 'I am your guy.'"

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When Larry Fedora was hired as head coach of North Carolina in December 2011, his search for a quarterback took him from Chapel Hill to outside of Cleveland and to the town of Mentor.

Fedora began recruiting a rising prospect in Trubisky, who would win Ohio's Mr. Football award as a senior in 2012. While Fedora was drawn to the natural athleticism and arm talent of Trubisky, he also recognized his toughness.

"He had some grit to him," said Fedora, now the offensive coordinator at Baylor.

Following Trubisky's standout senior season in Mentor, he arrived at North Carolina and relied on that grit. Trubisky redshirted as a freshman in 2013, then served as the backup to Marquise Williams across the next two seasons.

Trubisky embraced it as a competition, even with Williams entrenched as the starter in 2014 and 2015. Trubisky was constantly in Fedora's office and play sparingly as the backup before becoming the starter in 2016.

Fedora views Trubisky's battle with Williams as a foundation for his competition against Foles.

"I really think it will be good for him," Fedora said. "It will be a positive situation. He's been in a quarterback battle before, and he knows how to handle it. He knows what overcoming adversity is."

For Trubisky, overcoming adversity now means moving past the 2019 season that put his future in jeopardy. 

The Bears carried great expectations coming off a 2018 in which they went 12-4 and won the NFC North crown. Trubisky was expected to make a big jump in 2019 and lead Chicago to a deeper run in the playoffs. Instead, he and the Bears faltered under the burden of those hopes and finished 8-8. Trubisky's season was considered a major step back.

Outsiders regularly compare Trubisky against his high-profile quarterback peers from the 2017 draft, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. Mahomes was the league MVP in 2018 and led his Chiefs to a Super Bowl championship last February. The Texans' Watson is a two-time Pro Bowler.

Inside the Bears' offices at Halas Hall, Trubisky is still considered to be a developing player. 

"He's learning how to play the quarterback position," Bears coach Matt Nagy said last month. "That doesn't always mean on the field, that means off the field. Watching tape, what notes do you take? What's your schedule going to be? Right? How do you accept coaching? How do you give feedback? And all of that stuff has been going on right now has been going on in different ways.

"I can see he's starting to create his own way, his own habits. And obviously the biggest thing is none of it matters unless we all go out there and do it on the field, and now that's going to be the next challenge, taking it onto the field and doing it through a competition."

Trubisky's struggles were complicated in 2019. He played most of the season with a partially torn labrum in his left shoulder, which he suffered in a game on Sept. 29. It required offseason surgery from which he's still recovering. Trubisky also was hampered by a right hip injury suffered on Nov. 18. 

Also contributing to Trubisky's inconsistent play was Nagy's offense, which failed to create an identity in 2019. The Bears averaged just 4.7 yards per play, including a meager 3.7 yards per rushing attempt.

As an offense, the Bears believed they let down Trubisky.

"He has the ability and the wherewithal to be a highly successful quarterback in the league," now-retired Bears guard Kyle Long said on 670 The Score in April. "But you don't judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree. And in this situation, for far too long, Mitchell's skill set has been thrown to the wayside and there's been an attempt to make him do things that maybe he's uncomfortable doing."

The Bears' goal is to form a more balanced offensive identity, which in turn would play to one of Trubisky's strengths -- making decisions on the move. As the Bears work through a virtual offseason program, Trubisky is being challenged to master the team's scheme and better recognize a defense.

"He's extremely talented," said former Bears quarterback Jim Miller, now an analyst with SiriusXM radio. "I don't worry about his arm strength or his mobility. For him, it's just knowledge of the game. It's situational play. He can be better reading defenses. That's basically what Matt Nagy said. He needs to be better understanding where to go with the ball. It's understanding blitzes, understanding coverages.

"Everybody learns differently, but Year 4 of your career, you should be taking off. I'd say that for Cam Newton or any other quarterback. Mitch has played a lot of football. 

"He should be getting better at that. His career should take off."

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During Miller's four seasons with the Bears from 1999 to 2002, he came to understand the complicated relationship Chicago has endured with its quarterbacks.

Miller would drive down Waukegan Road along Chicago's North Shore towns and spot Bears bumper stickers on cars or walk into a store and immediately be recognized. While the rival Packers bridged two Hall of Fame quarterbacks in Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, the Bears have been searching for quarterback success ever since Sid Luckman retired in 1950.

Chicago has been desperate for a franchise quarterback.

"It's always there, a reminder that this is a proud city," Miller said. "They want the Bears to represent.

"You got to be Teflon. You got to fight through it."

Through high school into college, Trubisky studied the great quarterbacks like Rodgers, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. He aspired to create a legacy of his own. Trubisky arrived at Halas Hall in May 2017 driving the 20-year-old Toyota Camry that his grandmother once owned, a car the Bears believed spoke to his genuine makeup.

Trubisky's inconsistencies certainly aren't for a lack of desire. Michael Burton, a fullback with the Bears for two seasons, lived in a house with Trubisky in 2018. He noticed how Trubisky was rarely home, instead working late inside Halas Hall each night. These are the habits he created first in Mentor, refined at North Carolina and then brought to Chicago.

"He's a student of the game," Fedora said.

It's something that friends like McClure have noticed too, often joking that he's "boring." But they realize it's simply his commitment to being an NFL quarterback.

Trubisky has spent this offseason at his Chicago-area home, renovating his basement into a gym. He underwent surgery for his injured left shoulder in January and has been since building up for the 2020 season.

The Bears aren't holding their quarterback competition on Zoom these days, but when the virtual offseason program concludes and the team can eventually take the practice field, Trubisky will get the initial snaps leading his team.

That will mark the beginning of a competition that will define where Trubisky's career goes from here.

"If it's true that the Bears are going to give him a fair opportunity and it's not blowing smoke to look good, if it's a fair opportunity, I think he absolutely runs with it," McClure said. "I don't see him not stepping up in the moment. He's never been a guy who's afraid of the moment or it's too big for him. He's going to run towards it. 

"If he fails running towards it, so be it. But he's going to give you everything he's got.

"There's more of a fire underneath him."

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Two years ago, Trubisky spent a summer living in Los Angeles with Rams quarterback Jared Goff. It was an arrangement set up by their agency, Athletes First, as the two young quarterbacks took aim at joining the league's greats.

Goff was coming off a breakout 2017 campaign under the direction of first-year coach Sean McVay, with the Rams winning the NFC West. Trubisky was about to embark on a similar track of success in 2018, helping the Bears win the NFC North title in Nagy's first season. They used the summer to train, watch film and collaborate.

The careers of Trubisky and Goff were supposed to follow the same parallels. When Goff landed a four-year contract extension that included a record $110 million guaranteed last September, it set the framework for what Trubisky could've received in 2020 if he produced a strong 2019 season. That's what his agency could've demanded at the bargaining table.

Instead, Trubisky has been given no guarantees for 2020 and beyond. He will have to win the Bears' quarterback job over Foles, then earn a future beyond this expiring contract. 

"It's up to him," Miller said. "It's a prove-it year. It's really up to him, how he performs, how he does, how he handles this situation.

"Go out and remove all doubt and make sure you prove it."

When the Bears struck their deal for Foles, they put Trubisky on notice. It was their acknowledgement that the promising quarterback with the tireless work ethic might not be their future at the game's most important position.

Trubisky still has his sights set on becoming a franchise quarterback and leading the Bears in their future. It's up to him to rise to the occasion now.

"There's nothing he could've ever asked for more than the opportunity he has in front of him," McClure said.

"The way that he can kind of shape his life and his legacy for years his come, he's going to jump on this opportunity."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.