LAKE FOREST, Ill. — It’s finally game week for the Bears and Mitch Trubisky isn’t slowing down his steady progress towards becoming the team’s starting quarterback. Here’s everything you need to know from Halas Hall as the Bears prepare for their opener against the Atlanta Falcons Sunday at Soldier Field:
1. Trubisky is now the Bears’ backup quarterback, with Mark Sanchez falling to No. 3 despite only throwing six pass attempts during the preseason.
I’ll admit I was surprised by Wednesday’s news, considering I tweeted this Wednesday morning:
That’s what I get for using logic while covering the NFL. But at the time of that tweet, the Bears’ depth chart was still a mystery. They even left it out of the team’s game notes for the first time I can remember since I started covering the team in 2011.
To me, it seemed to make sense: If Trubisky is ready enough to come into a game cold off the bench, then he must be ready to start a game with a full week of preparation. After all, he’s clearly the most talented quarterback on the roster.
But I’m actually OK with the Bears moving Trubisky up to No. 2 and presumably making Mark Sanchez inactive Sunday. Here are a few reasons why:
A. Trubisky earned the promotion, which head coach John Fox and general manager Ryan Pace both pointed out on Wednesday. While it’s important not to rush young quarterbacks in the NFL, I also believe it’s important to reward them when they earn it.
B. Glennon played better when the Bears made it an actual quarterback competition. Elevating Trubisky to No. 2 keeps the pressure on Glennon, which could be helpful.
C. The Bears are still trying to win games here. If Glennon goes down with an injury, Trubisky is clearly the best option to relieve him. It would not look good if Trubisky was inactive in that situation.
D. There is value in Trubisky going through a few game weeks without actually starting the games. He’s never been through this routine before at the NFL level. Just being in the quarterback room with Glennon and Sanchez as the Bears prepare for their opponent can be helpful before the rookie actually has to do it as the starter.
“Every day there’s something he’s doing,” Pace said. “There’s new things he’s seeing, there’s new experiences that he’s having, which will just continue. And that’s what I think gets us excited. It’s just been consistent, steady growth from Mitch all along the way.”
At this point it seems inevitable that Trubisky will take over as the starter sooner rather than later, but I’m also OK with Glennon starting at least the next two games.
For one, I don’t think he’s done enough to lose the job to a rookie — yet. Pace promised Glennon the starting job when he signed and I think it’s fair to give him the opportunity to keep the job. This situation obviously sucks for Glennon, but he actually does have the power to keep Trubisky off the field with his own play. If he’s not turning the ball over and the Bears are winning football games, then Glennon will remain the starter.
Also, Glennon knows the Falcons and Bucs much better than Trubisky does. He’s played against Atlanta four times in his career and actually put up really good numbers (73 of 102, 6 TD, 0 INT, 112.4 rating). Of course, the Falcons are a much different team now than the one Glennon last started against in 2013, but he prepared for Atlanta twice as recently as last season. He also knows the Bucs — his former employer — better than anyone in the Bears’ organization.
“I’ve gone against (the Falcons) eight times in my career,” Glennon said. “It’s been a different defensive coordinator for the past two years, and I wasn’t necessarily playing, but I studied them … I came in with some knowledge of them, better than I would opponents in the NFC North because I’ve game-planned them and studied them multiple times over the past couple years.”
Throughout this entire process I’ve asked you to keep two questions in mind: 1. Is Mitch Trubisky ready? and 2. Does Trubisky give the Bears the best chance to win?
We seem to be getting close to a “yes” on both of those questions, but I don’t have a problem with the Bears sticking with Glennon for these first two weeks to at least give him a chance.
2. Eddie Jackson is officially the Bears’ starting free safety. Well, at least that’s what the Bears’ official but not really official depth chart says. Really, it’s no surprise though because Jackson was the Bears’ best free safety in the preseason and clearly beat out Adrian Amos for the starting job.
Otherwise, it was interesting to see Bryce Callahan listed as the No. 1 punt returner and Cre’Von LeBlanc No. 2. Jackson and Tarik Cohen seemed to be the two primary candidates for that job in the preseason, but they are listed No. 3 and No. 4 on the depth chart, respectively. I’m not sure I’m fully buying that until we see what happens in the game Sunday.
3. Cohen figures to be the Bears’ secret weapon Sunday. “Secret” might be overselling it — there’s plenty of tape from the Bears’ first two preseason games to show Cohen can be dangerous with the ball in his hands — but I’m not sure offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains used Cohen in the preseason the same way he’ll be used on Sunday. With Jordan Howard out in the second preseason game, Tarik Cohen was used as the Bears’ featured running back and ran for 77 yards on just 11 carries against the Cardinals. But a week later against the Titans, Cohen was barely used, which tells me the Bears were trying to hide him.
“Going into Week 1 I’m feeling pretty confident,” Cohen said. “I’ve got the offense down pat and I’ve got so much trust in my O-line and my capabilities and I feel like I’m going to have a good game as well as the other backs and the team.”
Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said he’ll have “a select group of plays” for Cohen, and I won’t be surprised if that involves Cohen lining up in the slot as a receiver. On an offense that lacks true playmakers, Cohen appears to be one and I expect the Bears to find creative ways to get him the ball when they aren’t pounding it to Howard.
Plus, there’s this: the Falcons’ defense allowed 9.1 receptions per game to running backs last season, which was most in the league.
4. Recent history might bode well for the Bears in this game. Over the last decade, Super Bowl losers are 4-6 in Week 1, and just 1-5 on the road, beginning with the Bears’ 14-3 loss in San Diego to begin the 2007 season. Does this have anything to do with the 2017 Atlanta Falcons or 2017 Chicago Bears? Not really, but it does point to a trend of Super Bowl losers having a slow start the following season.
There’s been a ton of talk this offseason about how the Falcons will respond after blowing a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl. The Bears will be the first to find out.
“It hurt like hell,” Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said on a conference call Wednesday. “You wanted to make sure your players are all right. And we know that would take the offseason, so we had those uncomfortable conversations and owned our performances, both good and bad. And we learned a lot about ourselves. At some point, you turn the page. That’s what competitors do and that’s what we have done.”
But Quinn admitted that it took until training camp for him to feel like his team was ready to move on to 2017, which immediately puts them behind every other team in the league in that regard.
For what it’s worth, the Falcons opened the 2011 season at Soldier Field and were 2-point favorites. They left with a 30-12 defeat. Of course, it was the Falcons who went on to make the playoffs that year with a 10-6 record, while Lovie Smith’s Bears went 8-8 in what turned out to be his second-to-last season in Chicago. Fluky things happen in Week 1.
5. New captain Quintin Demps was surprised by something on the Bears’ defense during the preseason.
“I didn’t know the front seven was that good. I think we have a very talented front seven, which is going to be huge for the back end,” Demps said. “I didn’t know Eddie Goldman was as good as he is too, man.”
Led by Demps, the Bears’ secondary appears to be better this year, but they still need to prove they can take the ball away. I pointed out to Demps that the starters didn’t get a takeaway during the preseason, and he had a good response.
“Well we got two, but we didn’t get them, but we got ‘em,” Demps said about two fumbles the Bears forced against the Cardinals that didn’t count. “They’re on tape. In our defensive room, we saw it. Eddie punched one out, I punched one out. I actually recovered one too.”
Demps has quickly made himself at home in Chicago, where he was voted a team captain in his first season. At 32, it’s the first time he’s been a yearly captain in his 10-year career.
6. The front-seven could be even better if Pernell McPhee is able to play Sunday. He was limited in practice Wednesday, but Fox said Monday that the outside linebacker is as healthy as he’s been since he arrived in Chicago in 2015. If that’s really the case, you’d think he’d be playing on Sunday.
“If I’m healthy, I’m gonna be that player (from 2015) no matter what,” McPhee said Wednesday. “I’m gonna be dominant. I’m gonna be fearless. Just a person, a guy who wants to destroy his opponent.”
McPhee missed the entire preseason after a surprise knee issue led to arthroscopic surgery and a stint on the Physically Unable to Perform List.
7. Kevin White has two brothers who could be joining him in the NFL next spring. Both of them are seniors at West Virginia, where Kevin also played before getting drafted by the Bears in 2015.
Ka’Raun White is a receiver for the Mountaineers and caught four passes for 74 yards in West Virginia’s loss to Virginia Tech Sunday. He’s slightly shorter than Kevin, but with similar hair that flows out of the back of his helmet, Ka’Raun looks a lot like his older brother when you turn on a West Virginia game. And believe it or not, he suffered a season-ending broken ankle last year, which left he and Kevin confiding in each other as they recovered from broken bones.
“There’s nobody better to talk to than someone that is going through or has been through the injury process and the pressure of this game,” Kevin White said. “We talk a lot. Just about every single day.”
While Ka’Raun is good enough to get an NFL look, it’s brother Kyzir White who could go early in the 2018 NFL Draft. Kyzir is a strong safety (playing the “spur” position at West Virginia) and “is one of the top safeties in college football,” as Kevin was quick to point out.
Both Ka’Raun and Kyzir followed Kevin’s path, starting at Lackawanna junior college before enrolling at West Virginia.
“It’s been great. To come from where we come from and to get a scholarship to go to Division-I and be one of the starters under Dana (Holgerson) is a blessing,” Kevin said.
Don’t be surprised if all three White brothers are in the NFL next year.
8. Right now safety Deiondre’ Hall is the only Bears player on injured reserve who is eligible to return this season. While teams are now allowed to bring back two players from IR (and do not have designate them to return before the season), only players who were on the original 53-man roster are eligible to go on IR and then return. That’s why Hall was kept on the 53-man roster during Saturday’s cut-downs and wasn’t put on injured reserve until Monday.
That means running back Ka’Deem Carey is not eligible to return, even though his wrist surgery was only supposed to keep him out for six weeks. Given that his contract is up after the year, it’s still possible Carey will receive an injury settlement and get placed on waivers. The Bears did that with outside linebacker Lamarr Houston Wednesday, who was due to earn $5.95 million this year. The terms of the settlement are unknown, but the Bears are undoubtedly saving money by letting him go. Houston wasn’t walking with much of limp in the locker room Wednesday after suffering a knee injury last week and could still sign on with another team when he gets healthy.
9. I’m not buying the idea that the Buccaneers are gaining an advantage by having extra time to prepare for their Week 2 game against the Bears. The Bucs’ season opener in Miami was officially postponed because of Hurricane Irma, which means next week’s game against the Bears in Tampa will be their season-opener.
But come on. The Bucs’ staff and players are going to be dealing with a major hurricane and worrying about the safety of their families, not Mike Glennon’s chance at revenge in Tampa.
“It’s a bit of a disadvantage (for the Bucs) because you’re all fired up for opening day and to start the NFL season and all the sudden it disappears,” John Fox said.
On one hand, the Bucs will get to study Week 1 film on their opponent and the Bears won’t, but Fox was quick to point out that Tampa’s coordinators are the same as last year, so not much has changed. The Bears lost 36-10 in Tampa last year with an extra week of preparation coming off their bye.
I just find it hard to believe that a major hurricane is in any way an advantage for Tampa Bay. The Bucs would much rather be playing this week than dealing with what they are dealing with. And they can’t be happy that they are going to play 16 straight weeks without a bye. As one league source said this week while dealing with the hurricane logistics: “All options suck.”
10. Referee Jeff Triplette has been assigned to Sunday’s game between the Falcons and Bears. Triplette also handled the officiating duties during the Bears’ preseason game in Arizona.
Football is finally back. Enjoy.