Bears QB competition remains riddle, Nagy plans to keep Lions guessing

Brad Biggs
Chicago Tribune

Chicago — Matt Nagy has made it clear that the Chicago Bears starting quarterback will be left to surprise for the Detroit Lions in Week 1. With two weeks to go until the opener, it’s increasingly looking like the decision could be a surprise to Nagy.

With neither Mitch Trubisky nor Nick Foles (Michigan State) stepping forward to grab the job since the competition opened in earnest with the first practice in full pads Aug. 17, Nagy certainly buys himself more time by saying he views potential mystery as a bonus in preparation for the Lions on Sept. 13.

In this Aug. 17 photo, Chicago Bears quarterbacks Mitchell Trubisky, left, and Nick Foles walk on the field during an NFL football camp practice in Lake Forest, Ill. The Bears acquired Super Bowl 52 MVP Foles to compete with former No. 2 draft pick Trubisky for the starting quarterback job, one of several moves to shake up an offense that ranked among the NFL's worst last season.

The fear is it must be a bit of a mystery for the Bears as well after Saturday’s controlled scrimmage of sorts at Solder Field, the most recent practice in which neither quarterback consistently hit big-time throws.

With no clear leader based on practice media has viewed, it dawned on me that Nagy might want to postpone a decision or even shield one with the Bears shutting down media access to practices after Saturday’s 2-hour, 15-minute session.

“I would say for you guys to know, just to save you the questions, that that won’t be happening before that game,” Nagy said.

Is this another footnote in the long list of confounding quarterback moves the Bears have made over the decades? After all, the adage is if you have two quarterbacks, you have none.

Before camp kicked off, Nagy said Trubisky and Foles would be the first to learn of the decision, the rest of the team would be next and then media. Now, Nagy would prefer if the world outside Halas Hall learns who is starting at the same time the Lions figure it out at Ford Field.

“Well, it’s a big decision,” he said. “You want to do what’s best for the team, and we told y’all from the very beginning that there’s zero agenda involved in this. There’s going to be very open and honest conversations. We’ve had some of those.”

Neither expressed insight as of where they’re at in the battle.

“I think that’d be a good conversation to have with coach probably tomorrow, see how we did after the scrimmage, go back and watch some film and then have one more big week of practice before I would say they probably make a decision,” Trubisky said. “But they really haven’t told us where we’re at or when the deadline is.”

Said Foles: “I honestly haven’t asked for any feedback. It just doesn’t matter to me. I just want to go out there and help this team, play out there, go execute these plays and help this offense and help this team in whatever role that may be.”

The practice started at noon with the Bears trying to simulate what a home game will be like. Before the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the preseason, the Bears were supposed to host the defending NFC champion 49ers at noon Saturday. The Niners defense would have been a great measuring stick for progress in the quarterback battle, and perhaps a clear winner would have been evident by the end of the third exhibition game.

Instead, the Bears march forward with Nagy saying the quarterbacks will be rotated in practice at Halas Hall after an off day Sunday. The only thing that has been consistent through two weeks of practice is that explosive passing plays are few and far between for an offense that was last in the NFL in 2019 in yards per pass attempt.

In fairness to the quarterbacks, the way the scrimmage was designed made it more difficult for them to build momentum. The down and distance for each play was scripted. So, for instance, after Trubisky climbed the pocket and hit a strike over the middle to Anthony Miller on third-and-12 in the third quarter to move the chains, Pat O’Donnell came on for the next snap to punt.

That allowed coaches to see every situation and test they desired but eliminated the chance either quarterback could come off the field with a sense of accomplishment after directing something like a 75-yard touchdown drive.

“Both quarterbacks missed a couple deep balls over the middle, but we’ve got just to correct that but I do like that we took some shots,” Nagy said. “The tempo was pretty good. You know what’s hard for them is we scripted the entire day, so as you guys saw, we might have a first-and-10 play that goes 12 yards and it should be first-and-10 the next play, but it ends up being second-and-8 or there is a certain result where you think the ball is caught over the middle for a 20-yard gain but it’s only a 2-yard gain.

“I was talking to them afterward in the locker room. It is challenging mentally to get used to the result of the play being different than what happened.”

Both quarterbacks spent time going against the first-team defense. Cornerback Kyle Fuller intercepted Trubisky twice, jumping an out route to Reggie Davis that Nagy explained was part of a broken play with quarterbacks, because they’re not being hit, being encouraged to force the ball in training camp. The second came after a deflection at the line of scrimmage by Roy Robertson-Harris. Nagy said offensive linemen are forbidden from cutting defensive players, something that can lead to more tipped passes.

Trubisky did hit some nice throws, making a decisive read on a throw over the middle to Ted Ginn Jr. But two plays later on a deep route for Ginn, Xavier Crawford nearly intercepted Trubisky. He overshot rookie wide receiver Darnell Mooney on a deep ball. In quick succession in the third quarter, Trubisky hit nice deep outs to Anthony Miller and Riley Ridley. Soon after, Trubisky sailed one high over tight end Eric Saubert in the middle of the field.

“I’ve improved throwing the ball downfield in situations with the team and one-on-ones and routes, just showing that I could make better decisions with the football … and throwing downfield and being more accurate, especially out and to the left and outside the numbers,” said Trubisky, who was throwing left on aforementioned out routes. “I think I’ve shown that I can make those throws and I’ve done better with my footwork and just being able to lead and run this offense. I feel like I’ve had a good camp and I’m just trying to get better every day.”

Foles had a deep ball to Mooney on the money, but credit should go to cornerback Duke Shelley for close coverage. Foles made a well-timed and strong throw on a deep in-breaking route to Ridley that turned into a 46-yard touchdown. Foles’ ability to quickly play fake and deliver short strikes on slants and other routes is evident, but it’s not as if he was dicing up the defense.

“Each and every day I’m getting more and more comfortable, the more we rep plays, the more we talk through them and just the more I get comfortable with the guys out there,” Foles said.

With the Bears returning to practice Monday, they have one week before they go into game mode to face the Lions.

“We’ll make the decision together, and in the end it’s going to end up being my decision as the head coach, but we all do it collectively, which I think will be the good part,” Nagy said. “But we have another week left to practice, and before you know it, we are going to have to name a starter.”

Just don’t tell Matt Patricia and the Lions. It would be great if this were some sort of competitive advantage for the Bears.

But what if it’s a lack of competition?