LAKE FOREST, Ill. — The Mitch Trubisky era is fully upon us, and while the Bears lost his debut Monday night, there were plenty of exciting (and hopeful) moments, including the creative, brilliant two-point conversion that was pulled off. Let’s dive into this week’s “10 Bears Things,” which includes the genesis of a play 17 years in the making:
1. Back in August, the Bears were wrapping up practice on a sunny day in Bourbonnais, giving each quarterback a chance to run a successful two-minute drill. As they did most days, the fans perked up a little bit when rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky took the field with the third-team offense.
Still in his early days running the Bears’ system, the two-minute drill didn’t always go smoothly for Trubisky, who in an earlier practice had taken a sack, failed to hurry to the line and then threw short of the end zone as time expired.
But this day was different. Facing a third-and-long, Trubisky threw a perfect ball down the right sideline where fellow rookie Tanner Gentry was able to go up and pull it in over the cornerback, who was in tight coverage. Just two plays later, the Bears were in the end zone.
But the offense wasn’t done. The coaching staff often keeps track of the score between the quarterbacks during the two-minute drill and opted to go for two, which would break the tie.
And that’s when the Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains first revealed “Heisman” to the public — a play he had been waiting 17 years to call (more on this in “Thing No. 3”).
Loggains originally installed the play in OTAs and brought it out again in Bourbonnais, sneakily subbing first-teamers back onto the field with Trubisky for the two-point conversion. Standing in the shotgun, Trubisky took the snap, handed it off to running back Jordan Howard, who then handed it off to tight end Zach Miller, who then pitched the ball back to Trubisky who walked into the end zone.
And as I watched, that was the first moment I was 100 percent convinced Trubisky would see the field in 2017. Given that the play had zone-read and option concepts, it required quarterback mobility and didn’t work well with Mike Glennon. At a minimum, the Bears were going to put Trubisky on the field in a big moment to run that specific play. More likely, the coaching staff knew Trubisky would take over as the starter at some point, which is why they re-installed the play in Bourbonnais with other starters on the field, even though the rookie primarily worked with the third-string for most of training camp.
Either way, for the fans in attendance, it was their first glimpse of the creativity Trubisky’s skill set provides. Fortunately for the Bears, no videos of the play leaked out on social media and no reporters gave the play away. The Bears’ media policy restricts reporting of specific play designs/strategy, even in public practices.
So when Loggains busted out the play Monday night in Trubisky’s first start, the Vikings really had no way to defend it. Trubisky walked straight into the end zone, untouched.
“That was sweet, right? I’m glad you guys didn’t give that one away,” Trubisky said after the game.
2. Can a play be indefensible? Usually not, but considering the Vikings had no idea what was coming, it would have taken some incredible defensive instincts or a major mistake by the Bears for the two-point conversion to fail.
Let’s start with the formation, which includes tight ends Dion Sims and Zach Miller lined up to the left. The Bears are going to run most of the action to the left side with left guard Josh Sitton (circled in yellow, below) pulling to the right. They want the Vikings to think this play is going to the left, but linebackers Eric Kendricks (54) and Anthony Barr (55) are the key to the play’s success.
The play starts with a zone-read concept with Trubisky pretending to read Barr (circled in red, below). In reality, Trubisky isn’t keeping the ball, but Barr is the last line of defense on that side, so he has to keep contain and respect the quarterback’s mobility. The handoff goes to Howard, who then hands it off to Miller (circled in yellow) who follows Sitton, pulling to the right.
While Sitton and Miller pull left-to-right, all the other action on this play is flowing to the left, including the original handoff to Howard. Perhaps with film study, safety Harrison Smith (circled in red, below) could have crashed down on Miller, but he was essentially stuck in mud, unsure of who had the ball. This leaves a 3-on-2 on the right side of the Bears’ formation, and even though Kendricks’ run-fit was to that side (as illustrated in the first photo), Sitton is there to block him.
At this point, it’s a simple option play, with the 2-on-1 advantage. Miller was an option quarterback at Nebraska-Omaha — “That’s why I switched from quarterback to tight end, because the option was my best pass,” he said, — and it’s up to him to read Barr. If Barr stays with Trubisky, Miller walks into the end zone. If Barr comes at him, he pitches it to Trubisky. In this case, Barr commits to tackling Miller and lays a big hit on him (“My jaw hurts a little bit from that,” he said) but not before the tight end pitches the ball to Trubisky, who walks into the end zone.
Without specifically preparing for this play, the only way the Vikings could have stopped it is if Barr had been able to deflect Miller’s pitch to Trubisky, which he actually almost did. Going forward, every opponent is going to have prepare for this play and the Bears are likely going to show the formation again in a similar situation. Depending on how defenses adjust, they could throw out of it, perhaps sneaking Sims into the end zone.
3. Loggains has been waiting 17 years to call that play. Knowing he wanted to coach his whole life, Loggains started a notebook in 1995 when he was in high school and wrote down plays that stood out from games he would record on VHS tapes. One of those games was a Buccaneers-Packers game from 2000, which Loggains watched when he was a freshman backup quarterback at Arkansas.
“I had the notebook and was watching the Tampa Bay Bucs play a game. The offensive coordinator was a guy named Les Steckel. They ran the play. I drew the play up in the notebook that I had,” Loggains said.
Thirteen years later, Loggains was the offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans and ended up hiring Les Steckel’s son as an offensive quality control coach. That gave him the opportunity to ask Steckel about the play in 2013.
“I had this notebook and I said, ‘Coach, I’ve got to ask you about this one play, You ran it 13 years ago.’ He called it ‘Doughnut.’ I don’t know. He’s a really creative guy. They did it within I think Shaun King, Mike Alstott and maybe Warrick Dunn.”
It’s the exact same play, just called “Heisman” in the Bears’ playbook. And it worked just as well, if not better, with Miller striking the Heisman pose in celebration.
“You’ve got to have Zach Miller. You gotta have a tight end or a Mike Alstott that you trust with the ball-handling,” Loggains said. “So it’s just an option play off that. That’s where the play came from. Coach Les Steckel deserves all the credit for it. We just installed it 17 years later.”
And, while Loggains only threw one touchdown pass in his college career, he finally had his Heisman moment Monday night.
4. Shoutout to Jack Silverstein at Windy City Gridiron who was able to put together most of the history of the “Doughnut” before Loggains even spoke about it Wednesday. Silverstein even found that Steckel tried to run it in 1999 when he was with the Titans, but it failed miserably.
“It probably looked good on the chalkboard,” The Tennessean read the next day, “but the Titans’ two-point conversion attempt, a reverse/option play where H-back Frank Wycheck slipped before pitching the ball to (Steve) McNair, should go the way of the shovel pass.”
And you can imagine what the reaction would have been in Chicago had it not worked Monday.
5. Rookie wide receiver Tanner Gentry is back on the 53-man roster and should stick around much longer with Trubisky at quarterback. The two worked together for most of the offseason, training camp and preseason and hooked up for a 45-yard touchdown in the third preseason game against the Titans.
“Tanner is a great player. He knows how to go up and get the ball,” Trubisky said. “He’s a good vertical threat and has shown what he can do, and I think they’ve given him a great opportunity this week just bringing him up. We’ve developed good chemistry ever since rookie minicamp, just throwing with each other and being on the same page.”
Gentry was briefly called up for the Bears’ Week 2 game in Tampa and caught two passes for 27 yards while dropping another. Given the Bears’ need for more dynamic pass catchers, this move seems to be more permanent, especially because veteran Deonte Thompson was released to make room for Gentry on the roster.
6. The Bears really need to start picking the ball off. They are one of only three teams without an interception this season (the Raiders and Dolphins are the other two), but this has been an on-going trend since Lovie Smith was fired in 2012. The Bears led the league with 24 interceptions that season, but their totals since look like this:
The Bears’ 16 interceptions since 2015 rank dead last. The Cowboys are the next closest team with 19.
7. Linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski (pec) took a step forward Wednesday as he was able to practice on a limited basis. He still seems like a longshot to play Sunday in Baltimore, but the Bears could be getting him back soon. Kwiatkoski suffered the injury in the first quarter against the Bucs in Week 2, just one week after Jerrell Freeman was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. The Bears have been shorthanded at inside linebacker ever since.
8. Either way, the inside linebacker position will look better this week with Danny Trevathan returning from his one-game suspension. He missed the Vikings game after laying a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit on Packers wide receiver Davante Adams the week before.
“I feel that one game (suspension) was cool,” Trevathan said Wednesday. “I mean, of course I’m not satisfied, but I can’t determine what goes on. Ain’t nothing I can say right now can change the fact they made it, and I gotta respect it.”
Trevathan was originally given a two game suspension, but it was reduced to one. Adams was able to play Sunday against the Cowboys and caught the game-winning touchdown.
“I reached out to (Adams). Told him I hope he’s good,” Trevathan said. “Hope you know I wasn’t trying to harm him. I was just trying to make play.”
9. The Bears’ last three games against the Ravens have been impacted by weather. In 2005, the Bears beat the Ravens 10-6 at Soldier Field in a windy game played in a cold rain. That was the same day the White Sox beat the Astros in Game 2 of the World Series in similar conditions.
Then, in 2009, the Bears’ game in Baltimore was pushed back later in the day after a major snowstorm prevented the Bears from arriving until late Saturday night. The team attempted to leave Friday and beat the storm, but their flight was cancelled. The Bears lost 31-7.
Finally, in 2013, the two teams experienced a two-hour weather delay as severe storms hit the area on an odd 70-degree November day in Chicago. The Bears ended up winning 23-20 in overtime on a Robbie Gould field goal.
The good news for Sunday? The forecast in Baltimore calls for partly cloudy skies and a high of 84 degrees.
10. The Bears’ Oct. 22 home game against the Panthers was flexed from FOX to CBS, but will still kickoff at Noon. The NFL and its TV networks relaxed its scheduling a couple of seasons ago, allowing a few all-NFC games to air on CBS and all-AFC games to air on FOX.
Bonus Thing: Well known veteran referee Ed Hochuli is assigned to Sunday’s game in Baltimore. Sam Rosen and Ronde Barber have the call for FOX.