College Sports

With former UNC QB Mitch Trubisky now Chicago’s starter, realistic expectations?

The Chicago Bears named rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky, the former UNC star and No. 2 pick in April’s NFL Draft, their new starter on Monday.
The Chicago Bears named rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky, the former UNC star and No. 2 pick in April’s NFL Draft, their new starter on Monday. TNS

Four weeks into the NFL season, the Chicago Bears have a new starting quarterback.

Reports out of Chicago say the team is turning to rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky, the former North Carolina star and No. 2 pick in April’s NFL Draft, as its new starter. This comes after Mike Glennon, an N.C. State alum and the starter the past four weeks, imploded in Thursday night’s contest against the Green Bay Packers. In four games this season, Glennon has thrown for 833 yards and four touchdowns, with five interceptions and five fumbles.

The Bears signed Glennon this offseason to a three-year, $45 million dollar contract, presumably to be the team’s starter. But that was in March, and a month later the team traded multiple picks (No. 3 overall, plus their third-round pick, their fourth-round pick, and a 2018 third-round pick) to move up one spot to take Trubisky. The idea was that Trubisky could sit and learn behind Glennon, especially since he wasn’t considered NFL-ready when he entered the league.

That doesn’t mean he wasn’t highly touted, because he was. In his one season as UNC’s starter, Trubisky threw for 3,748 yards and 30 touchdowns, with six interceptions. He also ran for 308 yards and another five scores, proving himself to be a dual threat. He showed off a strong arm capable of making throws all over the field, accuracy in the short and intermediate passing game, and natural leadership and the ability to confidently run an offense.

The question now becomes, what can we realistically expect from Trubisky for the rest of the season?

If his preseason form was any indication, good things. Trubisky’s preseason stats were impressive (364 yards, 67.9 completion percentage, three touchdowns and no interceptions), but even more so when you consider how far he progressed in his few months as a professional.

Trubisky entered the NFL having taken almost all his college snaps out of the shotgun – he essentially learned how to take a snap under center once he got to Chicago. On top of that, UNC’s offensive system, while prolific, didn’t require extensive playcalling verbage from the quarterback.

So since April, Trubisky has had to learn how to take a snap under center and how to call plays in the huddle, not to mention actually learning a new offense and meshing with new teammates.

Right, his teammates. Chicago is currently ranked 29th out of 32 teams in terms of scoring this season. They’re barely averaging two touchdowns a game, and a lot of that has to do with the offensive talent the Bears have (or don’t have).

The team lost its best offensive playmaker this offseason when wide receiver Alshon Jeffery left in free agency. Instead, the team has been throwing to ... well, whoever they could scrounge together. The team’s leading receiver in terms of receptions to date is Tarik Cohen, a rookie running back from North Carolina A&T – and he only has 150 yards. The most accomplished receiver on the roster is Kendall Wright, who has one 1,000-yard season in his five years in the NFL and hasn’t played 16 games since 2013. Meanwhile Kevin White, the team’s first-round pick in 2015, is out for the year with a fractured scapula.

All this is to say that Trubisky won’t be throwing to the talented array of weapons he had at North Carolina. There he had Mack Hollins (fourth-round selection by Philadelphia), Ryan Switzer (fourth-round selection by Dallas), and Bug Howard (on Cleveland’s practice squad), not mention running backs T.J. Logan and Elijah Hood, with the Cardinals and Raiders, respectively.

The two good things working in Trubisky’s favor are the offensive line and running game. Glennon played poorly against the Packers, but his four turnovers were on him, not the blockers in front of him. In fact, the Green Bay game was the first time Chicago’s five starters on the line all got to play together. The standouts in that group are Kyle Long, one of the league’s best guards when healthy, and Josh Sitton, a former All-Pro guard. If they can stay healthy (which isn’t at all guaranteed), then Trubisky should at least have time to find his receivers.

Then there’s the running game, which is the strength of the entire football team. Jordan Howard was the team’s fifth-round pick in 2016, but he quickly ascended the depth chart and was named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie. Then the team chose Cohen in the fourth round this year, but what he lacks in stature (he’s 5-foot-6, 181 pounds) he more than makes up for in quickness and versatility. The two of them, especially behind the team’s expected starting offensive line, are a threat in and of themselves, but when they’re clicking, they should attract the defense’s attention and open up space for Trubisky to work off the play action.

Of course there will be growing pains for any rookie quarterback, especially one void of any proven playmakers on the outside. Trubisky can lean on the improving offensive line and thus-potent running game in his first few games, but he won’t be a popular fantasy football addition just yet. He should, however, be capable of managing the game and making enough plays to improve Chicago’s poor offensive statistics.

It’s not like things could get much worse for Chicago, but they’re gambling Trubisky can make them better – and if what we’ve seen so far is to be believed, then he should.

Brendan Marks: 704-358-5889, @brendanrmarks