Hoge’s 10 Bears Things: The Quarterback Competition Is On

Mike Glennon, Mitch Trubisky and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains at Halas Hall. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

The Bears locked in their left tackle of the future and they may be closer to playing their quarterback of the future. And that was just what we learned on Wednesday. In fact, the top story in this week’s “10 Bears Things” changed three times Wednesday, so this will be a loaded edition. Let’s jump right in:

1. The calls for an actual quarterback competition have been answered, even if the Bears aren’t willing to admit it.

“There’s been no change in our quarterback depth chart as far as No. 1-2-3,” head coach John Fox said Wednesday, while announcing that Mitch Trubisky, not Mark Sanchez, will follow Mike Glennon in Sunday’s game against the Titans in Nashville.

Glennon will still start the game and play the first half, but Trubisky will start the second half with the first-team offense and the Bears hope the Titans will still have their first-team defense on the field at that point. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains informed Trubisky of the plan on Tuesday night and the rookie split first-team reps with Glennon in practice Wednesday.

That sure sounds like a quarterback competition.

“No,” Glennon said firmly when asked if he looks at this like a quarterback battle now. “It was clear to me that nothing has changed as far as the depth chart. Mitch is getting one rep with the starters.”

By one rep, Glennon meant one series, but when Trubisky was asked if it was just one series with the starters, he seemed to think the plan was more open-ended.

“They just said I’d be getting some reps in the second half,” Trubisky said.

Here’s what really matters: The Bears are clearly open-minded about Trubisky taking over as the starting quarterback sooner rather than later. That doesn’t mean it will happen — Trubisky still needs to earn the job — but the tune has changed dramatically from when the Bears reported to training camp on July 26.

“Glennon’s our starter and we’re confident with that,” general manager Ryan Pace said when the Bears reported to Bourbonnais.

Fox has been the daily voice of the team ever since, and has done his best to squash the notion of a quarterback competition, but this was his answer Wednesday when asked if he’s open to starting the season with Trubisky as the starter:

“I don’t like doing hypotheticals. Right now Mike Glennon’s the starter. He’s going to start preseason Game 3, which is usually a pretty good indicator where you start the season.”

It is a pretty good indicator, but it’s not a commitment — certainly not as much of a commitment as Pace and Fox jointly delivered on July 26.

Fox said the decision to work Trubisky in with the starters “was something we talked about and planned a long time ago.” Of course, this was just two days after Fox claimed “we haven’t talked about that” when asked if Trubisky would play with the starters, so it’shard to know how much the Bears are deviating from their original plan.

Either way, let’s give Pace and Fox some credit. It was obvious after Saturday’s game in Arizona that Trubisky needed to see some time with the first-team against Tennessee and they recognized that reality.

“This is really our last opportunity to get a look at him with the ones,” Fox said. “We can’t dictate exactly what Tennessee does with their defense but in that second half, to start the third quarter, many people leave their starters in. So we’re kind of hoping that’s what happens.”

Whether or not Trubisky has a chance to start Week 1 against the Falcons will likely be decided by what happens Sunday in Nashville. If Glennon struggles against the Titans, one has to wonder if the coaching staff will be tempted to put Trubisky in the game before halftime. Because if Glennon struggles and Trubisky only gets one series with the starters, that doesn’t give the organization much of a sample size to make the type of decision that could greatly alter the season and even Trubisky’s career.

2. Poor Charles Leno. The guy gets a huge contract extension Wednesday morning and all anyone cares about is Trubisky getting reps with the starters.

Leno’s story is pretty remarkable. A former seventh round pick out of Boise State, he is now set to make $38 million ($21.5 million) through 2021.

“He’s earned every penny of it,” Fox said. “We feel good about him and we rewarded him.”

I remember doing an interview with a radio station in Boise during Leno’s first training camp with the Bears in 2014. They seemed pretty excited about their guy getting an opportunity with the Bears and I could sense they were a little surprised when I told them that the best case scenario for Leno that year was to make the practice squad. At that point, they had seen Leno play a lot more than I had, and as it turned out, Leno made the 53-man roster and played in six games as a rookie, starting one.

I also remember talking to Leno in the locker room after the Bears’ preseason game in Indianapolis in 2015. Phil Emery — the GM who drafted him — was gone, and Pace and Fox were still trying to figure out what they had in Leno. The Bears practiced against the Colts that week and it was in those practices when they inserted Leno at right tackle with the starters, replacing Jordan Mills. Unfortunately, Leno struggled in that game, which was part of the reason why Kyle Long ended up at right tackle that season.

The coaches decided Leno was better off sticking to left tackle, where he played in college, and that’s when his NFL career took off. Leno started the season backing up Jermon Bushrod, but when Bushrod got hurt, Leno essentially took his job. Now he has a big contract extension, choosing to take the deal now, instead of waiting until he hit the open market next March.

“Honestly, it was just like, why not (take it now)? I feel like I wanna be here for a long time — why not take it now? There’s no point in risking anything,” Leno said. “I’m happy being here. I don’t care if I take less. I don’t care if I take more. It doesn’t really matter. I just wanna be here.”

3. Leno’s extension means it’s time to update the not-so-fun fact the Bears would love to erase: Leno is now just the fifth Bears draft pick since 2007 to earn a contract extension with the team, joining Kyle Long, Matt Forte, Kellen Davis and Earl Bennett. Leno and Long are the only two Phil Emery picks to receive extensions, although punter Pat O’Donnell could be next in line.

The organization obviously hopes this ugly reality from the last decade changes when Pace’s first draft class comes up for possible extensions next offseason, although 2015 second round pick Eddie Goldman seems like the only obvious candidate right now. That said, if you look ahead (and it’s still early), Leonard Floyd, Cody Whitehair and Jordan Howard appear to be possible cornerstones from the 2016 class.

4. A common problem was to blame for Roberto Aguayo’s missed 49-yard field goal against the Cardinals: tempo.

“I was just excited about the opportunity for me with what’s happened. You know, I want to go out there, I want to make the kick and just jumping on the ball too quick and then I knew right away as I hit, I attacked it too quick,” Aguayo told WGN Radio.

The result was pretty ugly, as the kick started left, but then sliced way to the right. For a talented kicker who has been battling his own mechanics since getting drafted in the second round by the Buccaneers last year, missing his first kick with the Bears seemed like a big blow.

“I told myself, I know what I did, and I slowed my tempo down the next kick and it went through, so it’s just a matter of calming myself down that first try,” Aguayo said. “You just have to calm yourself down, be smooth with it.”

The second kick was an extra point and it looked much better. Aguayo also had three touchbacks on three kickoffs, which is a part of his game the Bears like a lot. That said, you still need to make field goals and time is running out. The second-year kicker has two preseason games remaining in the next eight days to unseat Connor Barth.

“Just stay positive because (competition) happens in every position. And you never know. To me, a good saying I have is just ‘preparing my fields,’ just making sure I give it all my best, do what I have to do and at the end of the day, they make the decisions,” Aguayo said.

5. Meanwhile, back in Tampa, Aguayo was a recipient of a cheap shot. 

In what the Tampa Bay Times reported was a show put on by Bucs rookies Sunday night, a list of “10 Things You Won’t See During Camp” was displayed in the team’s auditorium. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson posted (and then deleted) a video of the list to Instagram and No. 9 read: “Roberto making his kicks … Roberto making the team … You know what, nevermind.”

Ouch.

I asked Aguayo about the Instagram post Wednesday and he legitimately had not seen it yet. I had to explain it to him and he didn’t have much of a response, although he didn’t seem to be too surprised. When Aguayo first joined the Bears last week, I asked him about his strengths and he immediately responded with “mental toughness.” The results on the field might not reflect that, but given what he’s been through the last 16 months, he still seems pretty positive when you talk to him. I get the sense he’s happy to be out of Tampa, getting a fresh start somewhere new.

“Being here (at Halas Hall), I don’t know, it’s kind of secluded. It’s very relaxing out here, you’re out in the woods. I think it works out well. I think I like it,” Aguayo said.

For reference, the Buccaneers’ facilities are adjacent to their stadium in a much busier area not too far from the airport. Halas Hall is much quieter and a much different environment.

6. While 2014 seventh round pick Charles Leno earned a contract extension Wednesday, 2014 first round pick Kyle Fuller is still fighting to secure his spot on the roster. The fourth-year cornerback certainly helped himself last weekend in Arizona though.

“I thought (Fuller) played well,” Fox said. “I thought he had a good night defending the run and the pass. It was good to see.”

Fuller was especially active early in the game, crashing in to stop a run near the line of scrimmage and breaking quickly on a pass intended for J.J. Nelson, leading to an incompletion. Later, he sniffed out a screen, got around the block and made a great open-field tackle for a TFL.

“Just had a feel for it with the formation,” Fuller said. “And then, of course, I would hope you could beat a lineman around the edge, so I was just able to make a play.”

There’s still some speculation that Fuller could be traded before the start of the regular season, but I’m skeptical. Forget what the Bears might be able to get in return, they probably need to keep him. While Fuller won’t bring much on special teams, he’s still a pretty decent backup cornerback, which is important considering Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper have already been dealing with hamstring injuries.

Amukamara was able to return to practice Wednesday, but Fuller still figures to play a lot in the Bears’ third preseason game Sunday. He continues to be a player to watch closely.

7. Keeping the theme of 2014 draft picks in this week’s 10 Bears Things, former fourth-round pick Ka’Deem Carey underwent wrist surgery Tuesday and will be out six weeks. That would keep him out of the Bears’ first four games of the season.

It will be interesting to see what this means for Carey, who brings value as a special teamer, but is already in a crowded backfield. He’s in the final year of his rookie contract and was making an impressive push to stay on the team. That said, injuries have always been the thing holding Carey back. It seems unlikely the Bears would hold a roster spot for him if he is going to miss at least a quarter of the season, but one option could be IR-to-return. Starting this year, teams are allowed to bring two players back from injured reserve during the season, provided they are inactive for eight weeks. Thus, Carey would miss more than four games if he was placed on injured reserve, but he could also be brought back for the second half of the season if needed because of other injuries.

8. Last year, Roy Robertson-Harris was an undrafted outside linebacker out of UTEP that the coaches were excited about. But we hardly saw any of him in training camp before he missed time with “heat illness” and was eventually put on injured reserve.

Well, it turns out he was dealing with a lot more than heat illness.

“Last year was kind of a difficult time,” Robertson-Harris explained this week. “My wife had just had our son, so I was a new dad. Being in the league for the first time, going through a bunch of changes, so not being able to play your first year is kind of difficult. I kind of went through a deep depression.”

The then-outside linebacker ended up putting on a lot of weight. Listed at just 255 pounds at the 2016 NFL Combine, Robertson-Harris got up to 280 before the coaches suggested he switch to defensive end.

“Talking to (defensive line coach Jay Rodgers), he was just telling me, come in for OTAs 285 and that’ll help with playing in the trenches,” Robertson-Harris said.  I’m 290 right now and so far it feels pretty good.”

It looked pretty good last Saturday in Arizona where Robertson-Harris had two sacks and a pass deflection. Coming into the NFL with a lot of length, he had the frame to add the weight. 2016 wasn’t exactly the ideal “redshirt” year given the circumstances, but it may pay dividends in the long run.

“Once I got cleared to lift and be able to run again, that just made me feel good and OTAs were probably one of my favorite times to play ball,” Robertson-Harris said. “Just to be able to play again, be able to come home and watch film and just enjoy myself playing the game. So far, 2017 has been a great year — just offseason, OTAs and then obviously the other day getting my first two sacks, that was big. That was really fun.”

9. Just floating a question here, but could the Bears’ defense actually be pretty good in 2017? The defensive line has some unexpected depth with Robertson-Harris and Jonathan Bullard emerging as threats, with Akiem Hicks, Jaye Howard and Mitch Unrein already steady veterans. Meanwhile, Eddie Goldman could be in line for a Pro Bowl year if he can play 16 games.

Elsewhere, Leonard Floyd could be on track for legitimate stardom, with Willie Young, Lamarr Houston and Sam Acho all capable of playing a lot in 2017. Anything you get from Pernell McPhee at this point is a bonus.

Depth in the secondary is certainly a concern, but Prince Amukamara was having a great camp before suffering a minor hamstring injury last week and Marcus Cooper and Quintin Demps are upgrades from last year. Really, rookie safety Eddie Jackson could be the difference between a good and great defense. We still need to see this unit start taking the ball away, and Jackson has that ability (that one-handed interception he nearly had in the end zone on Saturday would have been a play we would have talked about for years.)

 

10. We’ll end this week’s column with a college quarterback who simply isn’t getting enough attention, and that’s Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson. Put simply: Thorson is the Big Ten’s best pure passer, and it’s not even close.

I bring this up because the college football season actually starts this Saturday and there’s been a ton of talk about the talented group of NFL-destined quarterbacks this year (USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, e.t.c.) but no one seems to be talking about Thorson, who could be a future first-round pick (he’s currently a fourth-year junior).

So do yourself a favor and watch some of Clayton Thorson early this season. But if you do, make sure you turn down the sound on your TV and turn on the Northwestern radio broadcast on WGN Radio 720. You’ll recognize the sideline reporter.

Adam Hoge covers the Chicago Bears for WGN Radio and WGNRadio.com and is the sideline reporter for Northwestern football broadcasts. He also co-hosts The Beat, weekends on 720 WGN. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.