Hoge’s 10 Bears Things: The Easy Way To Determine When Trubisky Should Start

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Mitchell Trubisky (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

LAKE FOREST, Ill. — The Bears are done with Bourbonnais for 2017 and will head to Arizona this weekend for what could resonably be described as their most anticipated preseason game in years. Here are 10 “things” to keep in mind as the Bears get ready for their second preseason game:

1. Mark Sanchez should sit out Saturday’s game. The veteran backup quarterback returned to practice Wednesday after an ankle bruise cost him three practices over the weekend and a source said he’ll be healthy enough to play in Arizona.

But he shouldn’t. And it has nothing to do with the ankle.

Saturday’s game should be all about getting Mike Glennon and Mitch Trubisky as many reps as possible. Glennon needs more than the eight passing attempts he received in the first preseason game and Trubisky needs to be tested more — both by the Cardinals’ defense and his own offensive coordinator (more on this in a minute).

Hoge & Jahns Podcast: Ryan Pace Discusses Trubisky’s Debut

Back in the spring, Dowell Loggains admitted it was going to be a challenge to give all the quarterbacks the reps they needed in practice and the preseason. So this should be a no-brainer: Sanchez doesn’t need any reps in the second preseason game. He’s the most experienced quarterback in the room and already has a good grasp of the offense. Heck, on Sunday he was calling the plays in practice instead of Loggains.

But doesn’t Sanchez need to get comfortable with his receivers? Sure. He can do that in practice. Good backup quarterbacks get paid to come into games cold and continue to move the offense. During the season, backups barely get reps in practice, let alone games, and yet they are counted on to be ready to go when their number is called. Sanchez is already capable of doing that and 10-15 snaps on Saturday night is not going to change anything.

Remember, Matt Barkley wasn’t even with the Bears in training camp last year and even he was a competent fill-in despite having a lot less experience than Sanchez.

If the Bears insist on playing Sanchez Saturday, it should be in the fourth quarter — after Trubisky — because the rookie needs to be playing against the Cardinals’ second-team and not their third-team.

2. Glennon should play the entire first half and Trubisky the second half. I actually advocated for this strategy in the first preseason game because Glennon needs the reps too. He hasn’t played regularly since 2014. He’s on a new team. And now, he’s coming off a clunker at Soldier Field with the pressure mounting. Typically, starters play the entire first half in the second preseason game anyway. Glennon needs the work and the Bears need a more complete evaluation of their starter.

As for Trubisky, his debut was great, so now you want to test him more with a slightly greater challenge. The Bears can’t control the blitzes and coverages the Cardinals will show Saturday night, but the coaching staff does have some control over which units each quarterback faces. That’s why if the Bears insist on playing Sanchez, they should save him for the fourth quarter. Trubisky needs to playing against the Cardinals’ second-team and hope Arizona gets a little more exotic than the vanilla defense the Broncos played last week.

“(The blitzes and pressures are) tougher in practice than it was in the last game just because I don’t think in the preseason they wanted to throw a lot at us or show a lot per se,” Trubisky said. “But in practice I’m seeing a lot of different blitzes and I think game-planning on a week-to-week basis will help picking up the blitzes and everything.”

The Bears will do a little more game-planning this week and Loggains will once again come up with a plan that puts his rookie quarterback in a position to have success and build more confidence. Of course, it also wouldn’t hurt to make Trubisky a little uncomfortable and see how he responds. But more than anything, he can’t have game reps taken away from him by Sanchez, who has started 72 NFL games.

“For me, it’s how many reps can I get? I need all the reps I can get,” Trubisky said.

3. So what happens if Glennon struggles again and Trubisky continues to play well? This is by far the most common question I have received this week, but I’m going to ignore the first part of it because my answer is the same no matter how Glennon plays: If Trubisky plays well against the Cardinals then he should get time with the starters in the third preseason game against Tennessee. In that scenario, I would still start Glennon, but I would alternate series, giving both quarterbacks time with the starting offense against the Titans’ starting defense.

In other words, I would make it an actual quarterback competition.

Ideally for the Bears, Glennon will play well Saturday too, but either way, it’s important to keep testing the rookie every week. If Trubisky passes a tougher Week 2 test, then Week 3 should be even harder.

At this point, pretty much everyone realizes it’s a matter of when, not if Trubisky becomes the starter. But that “when” is a very important question because you don’t want to damage the development of any young quarterback. Should it be Week 1 against the Falcons? Should it be 2018?

To me, the answer isn’t all that complicated. Trubisky should start when the answer to both of the following questions is unequivocally “YES”:

  1. Does Trubisky understand the offensive system enough to execute at a high-level in regular season games?
  2. Does Trubisky give the Bears the best chance to win on Sundays?

If the answer to either of those questions is “no” then he shouldn’t start.

Take a look at what happened last year in Los Angeles. For Jared Goff, the answer to Question 1 was a definite “NO” when the regular season began, even though the answer to Question 2 was probably a “YES.” By Week 11, the answer to Question 2 became a resounding “YES” because of Case Keenum’s struggles and the Rams decided to start Goff even though the answer to Question 1 was not an obvious “YES” just yet. As a result, Goff took his lumps and now the Rams are hoping his development hasn’t taken a hit as a result.

Meanwhile, in New England, you have the exact opposite scenario. Jimmy Garoppolo answered Question 1 with a “YES” a long time ago, but they still have Tom Brady, so the answer to Question 2 is an obvious “NO.” Thus, Garoppolo has sat on the bench for most of the last three years.

I understand why everyone is eager to make conclusions after one preseason game, but let’s see how the rest of August plays out. And as you evaluate each performance, keep those two questions in mind.

4. Don’t forget that the players are watching the quarterback situation just as closely as anyone else.

“You’re interested, you’re intrigued,” defensive end Akiem Hicks said during Trubisky’s debut last week. “He’s our No. 2 overall pick. We’re just as invested as the organization is.”

Two questions later, Hicks delivered this notable response: “I tell you what, the stuff he’s doing on the field right now is something that you hopefully look forward to seeing in the regular season and against better competition. He looks really good right now. He’s out here ready to play, he’s an athlete and I look forward to seeing him compete further.”

In other words, the players want to see more too.

5. It was very interesting to watch new Bears kicker Roberto Aguayo get cut by the Buccaneers on Hard Knocks. Bucs general manager Jason Licht took a big risk when he traded up in the second round to draft Aguayo in 2016, but by last Saturday, he was resigned to the outcome, telling head coach Dirk Koetter on the HBO show that “it’s just such a bigger mistake to keep holding on to him.”

Not surprisingly, it came down to trust. Licht said on Hard Knocks that even if Nick Folk (who was competing with Aguayo) struggled in practice, he could trust him in a game because “that’s just the way he’s wired.”

“It’s the opposite with Roberto,” Licht told Koetter with the cameras rolling. “He could make 20 of his last 20 out here and then go to a game and now nobody is confident he is going to make it, even on a f****** extra point.”

Aguayo was understandably crushed, but he tried hard to remain positive.

“I let you guys down. Let myself down. But it’s a matter of keeping your head up and keep pushing,” he told Licht and Koetter. “At the end of the day, I just couldn’t get it done. But like you said, I know you guys know what I’m capable of. I know deep down what I’m capable of.”

48 hours later, Aguayo arrived in Bourbonnais for the Bears’ last practice at Olivet Nazarene University and I asked him what he thinks his strengths are. His response?

“Mentally tough. Just with the highs and lows that I’ve had during my career,” Aguayo said. “Stepping up to the plate and no matter what happens, there might be lows, there might be highs, but at the end of the day I’m just excited and ready to go out there and go and compete and go get better.”

Aguayo now has two and a half weeks to prove himself to the Bears before the rosters are cut to 53 players. It seems like an extremely short period of time to earn the trust he failed to gain in Tampa, and it’s worth remembering that the Bears cited Connor Barth’s reliability under 40 yards when they decided to cut ties with Robbie Gould last year.

“If you look at (Barth’s) track record, especially under 40 yards, he’s extremely accurate. And there’s a sureness in that that I respect,” general manager Ryan Pace said after acquiring Barth.

Aguayo seems to go against that “sureness” but he does have a bigger leg and Fox said they liked him coming out of Florida State last year. In claiming Aguayo, the Bears are on the hook for $428,000 guaranteed this year, which isn’t an insignificant gamble. He’ll get a fair shot to win the job and his performance in the next three preseason games will likely decide the competition.

6. The Bears have 25 days to get Kyle Long right — both physically and mentally. The veteran offensive lineman’s frustrations hit a breaking point in Monday’s practice, which led to multiple fights and an ejection from practice. Long has not been made available to the media since, but having witnessed what happened Monday, it reminded me of a frustrated baseball manager who had enough and was begging to get sent to the locker room.

“Obviously there was some remorse there,” Fox said Wednesday. “He was embarrassed for himself and for the team. Those things happen. Our guys, we’ve got a bond and he’s one of our family and he’ll be treated as such, like any kind of thing that happens in a family. Guys adapt and respond and I think everything’s fine.”

But Fox also addressed the mental hurdles Long is facing right now:

“I think any time a player’s injured, they get something that they love taken away from them. It’s been a minute, there’s some pain and suffering that goes along with it and I’m sure those are things. But we have a lot of resources here, Kyle knows he’s loved here, by his teammates and by everyone in the building. He’ll get through it and we talked about that and I think he feels confident in that.”

Long missed Wednesday’s practice, which created speculation that he had been suspended, but Fox said the left guard was seeing a doctor (for his surgically repaired ankle) and would be back Thursday.

Sunday, the day before he was ejected from practice, Long admitted he was frustrated with not being able to practice more.

“I’ll tell you, it sucks,” he said. “It sucks when you can’t be out there every team rep when you’re used to running off the field after a team period with the rest of the (first-team) and I’m sitting over there in a hat watching. It sucks. I’m not going to sit here and lie to you. I love the game of football and when it’s taken away from you and when you’re limited to just practicing against other O-linemen during individual it’s tough.”

Part of the issue here is that Long is in the process of switching to left guard. If he wasn’t switching positions, it would be a lot easier to just sit him during the preseason and throw him out there in Week 1. Fox has hinted that Long could miss all four preseason games, but one would think they would want to get him some live action at left guard if possible.

“I feel a little awkward, like, just having my feet under me and the timing of certain plays,” Long admitted. “You know, subtle techniques that wouldn’t look any different to you guys, but to me it’s a radical change. I just have to hone in on the details.”

7. One injured player who did get back on the practice field Wednesday was running back Jeremy Langford, who had been out since rolling his ankle — the same one that was surgically repaired in the offseason — in an evening walk-through on July 27.

“I guess I kind of was just worried about it too much and slipped and it got caught underneath me and I sprained it,” Langford said.

Fortunately, the injury wasn’t as bad as the one that limited him to just 62 carries and cost him his starting job in 2016, but it did put him behind in what is a deep running back room.

“I think my main thing is getting back to 100 percent and being the player that I am and can be, and the rest will take care of itself,” Langford said.

The Bears’ running back situation has gotten more interesting with the addition of rookie Tarik Cohen, but I don’t think Cohen’s presence will have much impact on Langford, other than him being another body on the 53-man roster. Langford projects more as a true backup running back, while Cohen is a specialty back who will be worked into the offense. In other words, Langford is competing more with Ka’Deem Carey and Bennie Cunningham, both of whom have special teams value.

I don’t think Langford can feel completely safe, but I would still consider him the favorite to be Jordan Howard’s backup. Let’s not forget that this regime let Matt Forte go and anointed Langford the starter last year. On the other hand, they also made a run at C.J. Anderson during the 2016 offseason and then drafted Howard, so that says something too.

We’ll once again end this week’s 10 Bears Things with three players to watch closely in Saturday’s preseason game against the Cardinals (other than Glennon and Trubisky): 

8. WR Kevin White

I’ve used the word “concerning” to describe White’s training camp and that certainly didn’t change after he failed to receive a single target in the preseason opener against the Broncos. Granted, he didn’t play a whole lot, but one would think that will change Saturday night. Glennon seems to favor Cam Meredith as a target (which is fine), but he and White need to start hooking up more. I wouldn’t mind seeing White get some playing time with Trubisky, just to see if anything changes.

9. CB Kyle Fuller

I hate listing two of the same players as last week, but Prince Amukamara’s hamstring injury has opened up a bigger opportunity for Fuller, who should play a lot against the Cardinals’ starters Saturday. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to call this the biggest game of his career. He’s still fighting for a roster spot and needs to play well.

10. C Hroniss Grasu

Grasu’s roster spot seems more secure after Eric Kush was lost for the season with a torn hamstring, but I’m still intrigued to see if Grasu can help at guard, where he has received some work in practice. If he can prove to be more versatile, he’ll greatly increase his value. If not, the Bears might have to consider moving Cody Whitehair to guard in the event that either Kyle Long or Josh Sitton went down. Considering Whitehair looks like he could be the Bears starting center for a long, long time, keeping him in the middle would be ideal. Let’s see if Grasu gets any work at left guard in Arizona.

Bonus Thing: If you haven’t already, make sure you check out the latest episode of The Hoge & Jahns Podcast. We sat down with Ryan Pace in Bourbonnais and discussed the quarterback situation in depth. You can subscribe to the podcast here.

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