Charting the Bears’ quarterback competition at Halas Hall requires one to have their head on a swivel. Writing in a notebook is best done without actually looking at the notebook. Eyes need to be on the field, because at any given moment, No. 9 can turn into No. 10 and then back into No. 9.
With 25 days until the regular season opener in Detroit, the Bears have held four real practices since the end of the 2019 season – and only two of those were in pads. There are no preseason games. Reps are at a premium and there’s only so much time available to make the biggest decision of the 2020 season.
So how exactly is this competition between Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles working? The last few days have provided some insight into the operation of the competition and the key factors that will ultimately decide who lines up under center against the Lions on Sept. 13:
A common way to execute a quarterback competition is to have one QB work with the first team on a given day and then let the other QB work with the ones the next day.
That’s not how the Bears are doing it.
Both quarterbacks are getting reps with the first- and second-team offenses in every period of practice. Usually they’ll get shuffled in-and-out after a few reps, but sometimes it’s after just one rep. The style is keeping both Foles and Trubisky on their toes, while also allowing them to work with every wide receiver. That could pay off if both quarterbacks end up playing during the season, which, frankly, is very likely.
“When you’re competing and coming in and out, what I think it does is it provides a great opportunity similar to a game, a sudden change,” Bears passing game coordinator Dave Ragone said. “I look at it as, ‘Hey, this can make me better, I have to make the most out of each rep. I’m not sure when the next rep is coming. The next guy might go in.’ So it’s very game-like to me and we’re trying to make everything as game-like for these guys as humanly possible.”
As for who is first out of the huddle in each period, the two quarterbacks are alternating days. Trubisky went first Monday, but Foles went first Tuesday. It hardly matters though and is more of a perceptual/mental footnote to keep the competition equal.
Ragone and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor are scripting the practices with an emphasis on giving both quarterbacks not only equal reps, but also equal plays.
“Coach Lazor has been uber-detailed and making sure if one guy gets ‘2 Jet All-Go,’ the other guy gets ‘2 Jet All-Go,'” quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo said. “And making sure it’s not just equal reps, it’s equal plays, where we can judge a guy’s eyes, we can judge a guy’s footwork on the same exact rep.”
Thus, it’s common to see the same play run twice, but with two different quarterbacks. That means when practices are over, the coaching staff can sit down and evaluate how each quarterback performed on the exact same play.
What are the coaches looking for?
Lazor listed three criteria:
1. Is his timing correct?
2. Is his decision correct based on what that play asks him to do?
3. Is he accurate with the football?
“If you just hang with those three things, that’s the bulk of the pass game evaluation. We like to make it so most of the evaluation is the pass game, not the run game,” Lazor said.
Nagy also mentioned “tempo in and out of the huddle at a really good speed,” and added that completion percentage, especially in 7-on-7 periods, should be high.
“Your completion percentages in 7-on-7 should be a lot higher than, say, team periods,” Nagy said “The last couple of days, for where we’re at, I’d like to see a little more improvement with that. But there’s no frustration at all. It’s a part of the process of where we’re at.”
Ideally, any team would like to enter their first game week with a clear-cut starting quarterback. That means by Labor Day, Sept. 7, the Bears hope their Week 1 starter is an obvious choice. But given the track record of both quarterbacks, it may not be. And with no preseason games available to aid the evaluation, Nagy, Lazor, Rags & Flip (great law firm name) will have to get creative. While not confirmed yet, it would be surprising if the Bears don’t mix in at least one or two live scrimmages between now and Sept. 3, which is the last scheduled day of training camp practices and when the preseason finale was supposed to be played.
The Bears have 13 practices between now and then. Every rep matters.