By Robert Zeglinski
BOURBONNAIS – Last year at approximately this time, Mitchell Trubisky checked into an NFL game as Bears quarterback near the end of the first half of a preseason contest against the Denver Broncos. In a semi-shocking twist, the rookie Trubisky completed 10 straight passes to start and lit up a backup Denver defense. It was the preseason, sure, but mass hysteria set in around Chicago and with the Bears themselves at such flash shown from their 2017 No. 2 overall pick. What that hysteria manifested from was likely low initial expectations for a young passer, and excitement at any competent play given Trubisky’s inherent symbolism as a new hope for the franchise.
This year, in the throng of a supposed innovative offense under Matt Nagy, expectations and the bar are set a little differently for the 23-year-old Trubisky in advance of his first official 2018 game action against the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday night.
If Trubisky completes 10 straight passes in the open again, no one will complain. The last time Trubisky played a road NFL game in southwest Ohio, he masterfully completed 78 percent of his passes and accounted for two touchdowns, so that’s certainly possible. If he performs terribly in what should only be one or two offensive series, the overreactions will be overbearing. But just like last August, either scenario also won’t necessarily be a harbinger of things to come.
The launch and breaking points for Trubisky in the long run will be consistency. It’ll be more than warmup hot streaks, followed by losing grip of a game situation as he occasionally did during his rookie season in Chicago. This is going to be the first full preseason where Trubisky is the Bears’ starter, which means he’s going to get the No. 1 snaps. He doesn’t have to light it up. This is a complicated offense he and the rest of the Bears’ offense is still learning on the fly, after all. He just has to be competent, in rhythm, and have command of his group in however much he plays.
“As we go more and more through these installs, the game is starting to slow down for us,” Trubisky said of the Bears’ offensive progression a few days ago. “The more time we have and the more reps we have, it just slows down for us.”
That progression is on Trubisky more than anyone. And it’s on him to maximize opportunities he gets in Paul Brown Stadium and over the next few weeks.
Here’s what else to keep an eye on for the Bears in Thursday night’s preseason battle against the Bengals.
Spotlight on the young Bears
Since the Hall of Fame Game against the Ravens was essentially an extended moment for much of the Bears’ bottom of the roster to play, the matchup against the Bengals is the first time for most to see guys like 2018 second round picks Anthony Miller and James Daniels.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, Miller has been lighting up Chicago’s training camp at Olivet Nazarene University. Both Nagy and Bears receivers coach Mike Furrey have insisted that Miller is “starting to see the why” in how their offense operates over time, making his growth accelerated. So seeing him channel his energy against a live opponent of any kind like the Bengals should be electric.
Meanwhile, Daniels has begun a slow progression on the Bears’ interior offensive line and started to bear out every draft evaluation of him. To see both Daniels and Miller with live football bullets flying around should be a treat.
Plus, the bruising Jordan Howard and dynamic Tarik Cohen likely see some churn in a more creative offense, Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen experience their first game together as a dynamic tight end duo, and more.
Trubisky’s play is the primary attraction, but there are a great deal of offensive moving parts to monitor no matter how long they’re featured.
Kylie Fitts’ ascendance
He wasn’t spectacular in the Hall of Fame Game, but a sack, quarterback hit, and tackle for loss will go a long way towards Kylie Fitts cementing himself a role in the Bears’ defense. Not only for the Bears coaches to see that the 23-year-old sixth round pick does belong at this level, but for confidence in a player that’s missed a majority of the last two college seasons due to injury.
Fitts has the size at 6-foot-4, 260 pounds. He has the speed, athleticism, and drive too. Now it’s about making plays on a regular basis and not experiencing any lows: a common theme for much of a young Chicago roster.
As fate should have it, the Bears have a clear opening on the defensive edge opposite Leonard Floyd. Yes, Sam Acho is there for now and has been solid through much of the summer. The team would be remiss if it didn’t want a young player such as Fitts to come and take the job away from the veteran Acho. Fortunately for Fitts, with fellow edge competitor Isaiah Irving not making the Bengals trip, he should receive a hefty amount of shots to make a firmer impression for that eventual starting goal.
Secondary early translation
While Miller has dominated the Bears’ offensive headlines of camp, their starting cornerback duo in Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara have taken the clippings on defense. A year under their belts as boundary partners, Fuller and Amukamara have regularly bullied Chicago’s quarterbacks and receivers with interceptions and physicality galore, and they appear to be on track for an even better season than 2017.
In Amukamara’s case, he credited his newfound ballhawk proficiency to his teammate Fuller. “I’ve been learning from Kyle to be more of a student of the game,” said Amukamara. “That’s in recognizing formations, down and distance, and everything that goes into it.”
Whatever it is Amukamara has done, it’s working. Whatever Fuller has done to key in himself, it’s working. They’ve both created a budding perfect secondary storm.
The first taste of live competition against one of the NFL’s best receivers in the Bengals’ A.J. Green and a speedy John Ross is a solid commencement for Fuller and Amukamara to begin to translate their elevated gamp glory to games. Yes, again, it’s only the preseason. But you’d be remiss to say two competitors like these Bears cornerbacks take that challenge lightly. R.
Robert is a writer and producer. He’ll be with the Bears all through training camp. Find him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.