By: Robert Zeglinski
Being an NFL backup quarterback is a lot like serving as an understudy to a leading performer in a grand theatrical production. You’re tasked with knowing every play and every line inside and out. Every route, every monologue, every cadence, and every minute facial expression must be memorized, firmly ingrained into your psyche as if you’ve been playing quarterback or acting your entire life. This assortment of mental gymnastics, of entertaining without being the lead entertainer, must be accomplished without the guise of ever stepping in between the lines of the football field or into the spotlight. It must be settled in a succinct manner where you’re prepared to play and perform at the drop of a hat, and recede back into the shadows just as fast. Your moment—the opportunity to shine once your ostensible superior steps down for any basis—may never arrive. On a list of priorities and their tangentially related importance, how you support the starting quarterback or lead comes first. How you play when pressed into action is an almost tertiary thought at best.
The only instance where your presence as backup, as an understudy, is pined for is when you shine brighter than the person you were only supposed to temporarily replace. For most players and up-and-coming actors, this is an unrealistic prospect given the rigors of their respective ruthless industries.
On Sunday, with the throes of the meat of their 2019 regular season laid out front of them, Chase Daniel once again went from an afterthought stand-in to the face of a struggling Bears offense. Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago’s starter, attempted to roll out on the sixth play of a pivotal divisional contest against the Minnesota Vikings. He ran right into pressure. In a vane attempt to escape and create magic out of thin air, he suffered a torn left labrum and a dislocated left shoulder. By all respects, a fortunate diagnosis considering how much of the Bears’ hopes rest on the 25-year-old’s one healthy shoulder and one appendage pieced together by tape and glue.
Enter Daniel, 10-year veteran. A man known more for making over $30 million dollars despite maybe, only potentially playing in any game of any season over the decade he’s been in the NFL. 195 respectable yards later, along with one touchdown and every attempt made to avoid mistakes for the sake of making explosive plays, and somehow, a Bears victory.
Welcome to the foreseeable quarterback future in Lake Forest.
“We’ve got people that don’t flinch when adversity strikes,” said Matt Nagy in the postgame. “I couldn’t even give a game ball out today because it wouldn’t have been fair to all the other backups in there.”
Daniel might be the preeminent example of someone who doesn’t wince at first contact. A man prepared to jump into the fire, whether he has his flame retardant suit draped over his body or not. In a sport most often defined by the weakest link, or rather, who can step once an inevitable injury occurs to the quarterback—a premium position with a distinct scarcity of competence—Daniel has proven to be a welcome exception for the Bears.
Ever since he joined Nagy’s ragtag bunch in 2018, Daniel is 2-1 in games where he’s forced to either start or step in for Trubisky. He hasn’t exactly pieced together prolific performances. Far from it. Sometimes, he’s looked as if he doesn’t belong on the same field as his defensive counterparts: a multiple turnover outing against the Giants acting as the best example of what happens when a starting defense has time to prepare for a fill-in. What Daniel lacks in natural ability and athleticism is where Trubisky fills in the gaps. There’s sound cause for the difference, as there always is, between the starter and backup.
As much as pining for the backup quarterback in Chicago is an equivalent tradition to mispronouncing simple names over the radio airwaves, the Bears will miss the ailing Trubisky. However long he’s forced to sit and recover, the Bears won’t have the dynamic he adds to their still-burgeoning offense. They’ll be stuck just past neutral, trying and failing to get out of grimy muck. A contender missing its starting quarterback, what a novel concept. But for the most part, the effectiveness Daniel has shown in merely controlling games and giving the defensively-driven Bears a chance to win, should be comforting. It should keep the Bears afloat, if only temporarily.
The first test heaped onto Daniel’s plate won’t be easy. A London date where the suddenly adequate Raiders await won’t be a cakewalk. It’ll be a familiar obstacle to a quarterback who wilted in a similar road scenario. Given the steadiness of a mature supporting cast around him, something says Daniel won’t shy away from the moment this time. He’ll fit into Britain’s culture and climate seamlessly, a botched English accent and fish and chips and all. The proclaimed understudy will carry the show as only he can. Once the curtains come up, the audience will be none the wiser.
Robert is a writer and editor. Follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.