BERGEN COUNTY, N.J.- In the 2017 National Football League Draft, the Chicago Bears, with the second overall pick, selected Mitchell Trubisky, a 6’3″ quarterback from the University of North Carolina. After watching from the sidelines, Trubisky got the opportunity he had been working toward for his entire life in week 5 of the 2017 season. It was in a home game against the Minnesota Vikings and his performance in that contest made it so his coach could not take him out. At season’s end, Trubisky finished with a very mediocre: 7 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, 2,193 yards, and a passer rating of 77.5. The Bears posted a (losing) 4-8 record while quarterbacked by Trubisky. Overall, they finished at 5-11, good for last place in NFC North.
With a couple of notable free agent signings and a solid 2018 draft that addressed needs on both sides of the ball, the Chicago Bears’ stock seems to be rising. Most important, however, is new head coach Matt Nagy and a sophomore quarterback with a high ceiling.
New Head Coach Matt Nagy
Bears fans must be excited that a former quarterback, who has steadily worked his way up the coaching tree, has put down his roots in Chicago. A rookie head coach, Nagy’s most recent position was offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs. Just last season, according to NFL.com, the Chiefs were the 5th best total offense in the league. More specifically, they were 7th in passing yards per game, 9th in rushing yards per game, and 6th in points per game. In 2017, the Bears were 30th in total offense, 32nd (last) in passing yards per game, 16th in rushing yards per game, and 29th in points per game.
Nagy was lauded for his creativity with the Chiefs’ offensive schemes. Wasting no time this offseason, the Bears have already been subjected to it. “100%, yeah” said Prince Amukamara, a Bears cornerback. He continued to tell me that “…[the Bears’ offense does] a lot of motions, a lot of checks, a lot of different routes…. [Nagy’s] offense definitely challenges us”. Amukamara knows ‘challenging’: his New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. This has to be music to Bears’ fans ears.
Amukamara continued to tell me: “Coach Nagy has been great for the Bears organization. Even though this is his first year as a head coach, you would never know just from how he takes control of the room and already has the players’ trust. As a head coach, that’s immediately what you want and everything’s been great.” Coming from Amukamara and the Tom Coughlin School, this is high praise for Nagy.
Mike Burton, Bears fullback, is happy that Nagy is a fellow ‘Jersey-guy’. With a smile, he told me: “It’s nice to have a fellow Jersey ian-for sure. [People from New Jersey] , we tend to stick together.”
Sophomore Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky
Amukamara’s tenure with the Giants and Jaguars had expired, so he signed with the Chicago Bears in March of 2017. This past March, he signed a three-year extension. Why? “[Trubisky] is one of the reasons for re-signing with them, I definitely want to experience what I experienced [in New York] which is a championship.” Drawing a parallel between Manning and Trubisky, he continued: “I think that only starts with the quarterback… I had that here with Eli…. I feel like we have that here in Trubisky. Like you said, it’s his second year, but just his maturity and leadership, it’s just amazing”.
Burton has a much more intimate take: he and Trubisky play on the same side of the ball and live together in Chicago. When I asked about Trubisky, Burton’s excitement was palpable. “We have a great relationship. He’s a great person, a great player: it’s really the best of both worlds with him. He’s awesome on the field, awesome off the field. It’s really an honor being able to play with him. He brings such a uniqueness with his leadership to the huddle, to the locker room…it’s just, you learn something new from him every single day.”
Is the Sophomore Slump fact or fiction? Matt Ryan felt it (2008-2009). So did Sam Bradford (2010-2011). Bears Nation is hoping, with every ounce of its being, that Trubisky’s development, work ethic, study habits, and intangibles allow him to circumvent the dreaded Sophomore Slump. That phrase does not even seem to be in Burton’s vocabulary. Excitedly, he said: “[Trubisky’s] absolutely ready to take the next step. He’s worked his tail off and I’m just really excited to see kind of where he’s at now [after the long off-season]”.
As far as Amukamara signing with the team to be with Trubisky, Burton replied: “Absolutely… he said it to us teammates, he’s really excited about Mitch, as am I, and as is the entire organization.”
There have already been comparisons between the 2018 Bears and the 2017 Rams. The Rams paired young, fresh, exciting head coach Sean McVay with second year quarterback Jared Goff (selected first overall in the 2016 NFL Draft). The Bears have paired creative and bold head coach Matt Nagy with second year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (selected second overall in the 2017 NFL Draft). As far as those comparisons go, they’re just narratives to the players. In response to my question about the comparison, Burton responded: “I see the Bears being the Bears. I don’t necessarily think that we’re tying to be like anybody else. I think we have our own uniqueness that we bring, that Coach brings, that Mitch brings. Whatever it’s going to be, it’s going to be the Bears’ mark on it”.
There is a lot to be optimistic about if you are a Bears fan. Amukamara has the right mindset: “Just like you said: we have a lot of new pieces to our puzzle, but no one wants to win free agency and not win the season, so it’s all about winning the season at the end.” It seems as though Burton wants the season to start yesterday: “I’m just super excited about the team and where we’re at. [I’m] just excited about the new people that have come in, the new coaches. It’s certainly an awesome organization to be part of”. Bears fans: buckle up. It can only go up from here.
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- My interview with Prince Amukamara was recorded on 6/8/18 at a football Procamp hosted by Victor Cruz, benefitting the Victor Cruz Foundation.
- My interview with Mike Burton was recorded on 6/10/18 at his 3rd annual Mike’s Knights football camp, a fundraiser for the Embrace Kids Foundation.