Schofield: Best candidates to push Chicago Bears QB Mitch Trubisky in 2020

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“Stand by your man…”

It might be understandable if you confused Matt Nagy for country singer Tammy Wynette this weekend. In the wake of another inexplicable loss by the Chicago Bears, to the struggling Los Angeles Chargers at home, the boobirds were out and Nagy was forced to stand at the podium and address questions about the quarterback position.

For now, Nagy is standing by Mitchell Trubisky. But after a poor showing against the New Orleans Saints two weeks ago, Trubisky followed up that outing by completing 23 of 35 passes for 254 yards and an interception. He put those numbers up against a Chargers unit that has been a bottom-ten passing defense in a number of categories this season, including allowing an Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt of 7.0 (ninth-most in the league) and an opposing passer rating of 103.1 (eighth-most in the league). 

Against the Chargers, Trubisky posted a quarterback rating of 75.1 and an ANY/A of 4.64.

Not great, Bob.

But with Nagy sticking by Trubisky for now, thoughts are turning to the off-season. While Trubisky may be the best option for the remainder of the 2019 campaign, the Bears should at least consider some competition for their current starter in the months ahead. Consider it the model of the Tennessee Titans, who brought in Ryan Tannehill this past off-season and inserted him as the starter in place of a struggling Marcus Mariota two weeks ago. So in that mold, who are some options to consider for Chicago if they want to go the competition route?

Veteran Options

Teddy Bridgewater

The first name that comes to mind is Bridgewater, who made an incredible return to the game in the wake of what some considered a career-ending knee injury. The former Minnesota Viking and New York Jet stepped into the starting lineup this season when Drew Brees went down with a thumb injury. All he did in replace of the future Hall of Famer was complete over 67 percent of his passes for 1,370 yards and nine touchdowns, against a pair of interceptions.

Oh, and the Saints went 5-0 with him under center, giving them a 6-1 record when Brees returned to the lineup this past weekend. Overall New Orleans sits a 7-1 and atop the NFC South.

The future of the quarterback room in New Orleans is an interesting topic for discussion. Brees is seemingly near the end of his career, and whether retirement is around the corner or a bit longer off, the organization must be thinking about his eventual replacement. Is that player Bridgewater? The Saints signed him to a one-year deal this offseason, and he is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this league year. With the success he had during this five-game winning streak, it is likely he would command some serious interest in free agency. Or, the Saints could try and bring him back into the fold - either as Brees insurance or as his replacement.

But if you are putting together a wish list of competition for Trubisky, Bridgewater’s name should be at the top.

Marcus Mariota

Perhaps the player replaced in the model the Bears would look to emulate could serve as the replacement quarterback in a new city.

The writing was on the wall this pre-season for Mariota. Entering the final year of his rookie deal there was little movement on a long-term extension, and the organization brought in Tannehill as competition for Mariota before the season started. When the Titans’ offense struggled - in a manner similar to Chicago’s recent struggles - the team turned to Tannehill. Since taking over Tannehill has guided the Titans to successive victories, throwing for over 500 yards and five touchdowns in the process.

This would seemingly indicate that Mariota’s time in Tennessee is over. Could a reunion with his former collegiate coach, current Bears’ offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, be in the cards. Let’s not forget, under Helfrich Mariota played himself to a Heisman Trophy and was the second-overall selection in the 2015 draft. Further still, some considered Mariota - and not Jameis Winston - to be the better of the two prospects. After an incredible NFL debut Mariota has never lived up to the promise and potential he showed at Oregon, but part of that could be due to an endless parade of new offensive coordinators and systems, as well as some nagging injuries. Mariota has played for five different offensive coordinators in Tennessee, and perhaps some stability in playing under Helfrich would enable him to salvage his career. 

Nick Mullens/C.J. Beathard

Reports out of San Francisco, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, are that the 49ers have been fielding calls about one of their backup quarterbacks: C.J. Beathard.

While Beathard would be a possibility, the player that Chicago should be pushing for is Nick Mullens. The former Southern Mississippi quarterback replaced an injured Beathard last season in the wake of the Jimmy Garoppolo injury, and Mullens flashed a lot of the traits that Nagy would like to have in his system. Most notably? Manipulation and anticipation.

Remember, for Nagy’s system to work the receivers need to be able to secure yardage after the catch. Some of the biggest ways a quarterback can contribute to that goal are by getting the ball out on time and in the rhythm of the play, making accurate throws, and by moving defenders out of position with his eyes. 

Last season I argued for SB Nation that the New England Patriots should look to acquire Mullens, and those traits were a huge reason why I made that case. Take for example this play from Mullens’ first start, against the Oakland Raiders. Early in the third quarter the 49ers face a second and 12, and they empty the backfield with Mullens (#4) in the shotgun, two receivers to the right and three to the left. Mullens wants to throw a slant to George Kittle (#85), who is the inside receiver in the trips formation on the left, but he’ll need to influence the middle linebacker away from the three-receiver side of the offense, and towards the two-receiver side.

Watch how he uses his eyes to get the defender out of position and create a throwing lane:

Watching from the end zone angle, you can see how Mullens uses his eyes to create the opportunity for his tight end:

On the ball placement question, you can see more examples of that from Mullens’ start last year against the Raiders. Such as on this long throw from the left hashmark to the right sideline:

Or in the vertical passing game:

Finally, we have spoken this year at length about the importance of processing speed from the quarterback. While the offensive play-caller can try and help give the QB information in the pre-snap phase of the play, sometimes the quarterback needs to think for himself.

On this play against the Los Angeles Rams from last season, Mullens has pre-snap motion to try and get a coverage indicator, but it is difficult to get a read on the defense. The linebackers flip and a safety rolls down into the box, indicators that man coverage may be in play. But at the snap the Rams drop into zone coverage, and Mullens immediately deciphers it, and throws to his fullback in the flat:

I think Mullens would be a perfect acquisition for the Bears this off-season. However, with the word that the organization is currently shopping Beathard, and not Mullens, Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch might prefer they lock Mullens up to a long-term deal. Mullens is an Exclusive Rights Free Agent (ERFA) at the end of this season, so the organization is in the driver’s seat when it comes to retaining his rights. With Beathard under contract for 2020 for a base salary of under $1 million, that might make it easier to shop Beathard, and not Mullens.

Josh Rosen

I know…

All signs point to Rosen enduring a second-straight season where his team drafts a quarterback at the top of the draft, making his roster spot less than guaranteed. It happened last year when the Arizona Cardinals quickly moved on from him and drafted Kyler Murray with the first overall selection, and that process seems ready to play out again with the Miami Dolphins in full on “Tank for Tua” mode.

The question around Rosen is this: Do you believe that the past two years (or even longer, thinking back to his college days) have merely stunted his development, or is he damaged goods?

I think the case can be made that Rosen is more the former than the latter. While many - myself included - believed his mental proficiency was a strength of his coming out of UCLA we learned this past off-season that simple tasks, such as identifying the MIKE linebacker pre-snap, were completely foreign to him when he became a Dolphin. He has not had a chance to grow, and while he was trying to learn how to play quarterback in the NFL, he was doing it first behind an offensive line in Arizona that struggled to protect him, and then for a team in Miami that seems more focused on finding his replacement.

He needs a chance to develop. Maybe in Nagy’s system, which has done a ton to simplify things for Trubisky, he can get that chance. Because after all, even with all of this going on, you saw flashes of what he can be during his rookie year.. During the start to his NFL career the young quarterback seemed to be developing a great relationship with tight end Ricky Seals-Jones (#86). Watch the connection between those two on this out pattern toward the left sideline:

This is a prime example of “NFL open.” Seals-Jones has a step on Bobby Wagner (#56), and while the linebacker is in good position this is a throw that quarterbacks need to make to not only extend drives, but extend their careers. When watching it on the broadcast replay angle, the throw is even more impressive:

This is a perfect throw from Rosen (#3) and as Mark Schlereth points out in the booth, “you can’t throw it better than that.” The pass is delivered with enough touch to get it over Wagner, but with enough velocity to arrive before the safety can make a break on Seals-Jones. A truly impressive pass.

Maybe Chicago is just the change of scenery he needs.

The Rookie Route

This could be a dicey proposition. Acquiring a rookie quarterback in the early rounds might be difficult for the Bears, given just how high quarterbacks tend to fly up draft boards. Complicating matters is the fact that Chicago lacks a first round pick in next year’s draft, although they do have a pair of second round picks, currently projected to be the 44th and 45th picks in the draft.

That is probably not enough to get up to the top of the draft board to take a top flight prospect at the position (and sitting here right now, that probably does not seem like the approach Chicago is going to take anyway) so looking at some names in the second round area as potential competition, we have two to examine.

Jake Fromm

We covered Fromm a few weeks ago in PFW's first look at Tier Two of 2020 NFL draft quarterbacks. He might not be the flashiest prospect in the potential 2020 crop, but what he has going for him in terms of draft positioning is the “pro-style quarterback” tag. Every draft cycle there is a passer who rises up boards during the process because of his NFL “readiness.” Perhaps he works from under center, perhaps he runs a bunch of play-action passing plays where he turns his back to the defense, perhaps he runs more “NFL concepts,” but whatever the reason, the QB catches buzz during the pre-draft process.

Fromm does some of the little, nuanced things that NFL scouts often look for in a passer. Working through progression reads quickly is something that not many prospects enter the league with - and that might be something Bears fans long for in a quarterback. Well, here is Fromm doing just that. Watch his eyes on this play against the University of Tennessee:

I love how Fromm trains his eyes in the middle of the field, but comes to this curl route along the right sideline very late in the play to make a snap throw. This displays a great understanding of coverage and scheme here, as Fromm knows exactly what to expect from the defense and uses his eyes to manipulate the secondary. 

Here is another example of Fromm’s eyes as he works through progressions in the passing game:

On this play against Murray State, you can see Fromm working the passing concept to the left side of the field, before coming to a deep sit route over the football and throwing a strike with good velocity and placement.

While it is only October, I would be surprised if Fromm works his way into the first round. If he is available for one of Chicago’s second round picks, it might be a smart selection to give Trubisky some competition, and to hedge their bets for the future of the quarterback room.

Jacob Eason

Another option for the Bears in the second round range might just be the quarterback who lost his starting spot to Fromm. While at the University of Georgia Eason suffered a knee injury early in the 2017 season, giving the true freshman Fromm the chance to come in and lead the Bulldogs. After transferring to the University of Washington and sitting out a season, Eason has taken over as the starting quarterback for the Huskies and has been impressive at times this season.

What stands out the most about Eason is the arm talent. His film this season often allows him to display NFL level arm talent and velocity. Such as he demonstrates on this throw against Eastern Washington on an out pattern from the right hashmark to the left sideline:

Another thing that could work in his favor is the kind of offense he is running for the Huskies. Watching Washington play you see lots of quick game concepts, shallow crossing concepts, and quick screens. All designs that you see Nagy running in Chicago. Eason’s arm talent is impressive, but his experience in a system that emphasizes the quick throw and ball placement could be an ideal landing spot.

The Bears seem closer and closer to decision time at the quarterback spot. After all, sitting in last place in the division does lead to some thinking about making changes. Nagy can continue to channel his inner Wynette as this season rolls on, but in the off-season there are going to be opportunities to at least give Trubisky some competition. These are the names I would strongly consider. 

 

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