DECATUR — It was fascinating to hear the contrast from Bears GM Ryan Pace on Sunday at team brass’ annual pre-training camp press conference as he discussed arguably his two most important players not named Khalil Mack.In Mitch Trubisky, whom Pace traded up one spot to select No. 2 overall in 2017, the general manager said he’s seeking “incremental improvement” from his Pro Bowl alternate quarterback entering his second season in a legit QB incubator.
In Leonard Floyd, the Pro Bowl alternate edge rusher whom Pace traded up two spots to select No. 9 overall in 2016, the general manager saw the biggest non-rookie standout of the Bears offseason program.
Bear in mind, Floyd has obviously played one more season, has been a starter from the jump, and though few would argue edge rusher isn’t 1B — or no worse than 1C — in terms of positional value behind quarterback, its job responsibilities are a far cry from Trubisky’s as the field general.
But Floyd is learning a new defensive scheme in a potential contract year lining up across from the game’s premier edge rusher; there is still immense pressure on him to create a lot more of it on opposing quarterbacks.
“If you said — and I know it’s hard with just shorts on — what player, non-rookie, stood out to you in this offseason program, it would be Leonard Floyd,” Pace said. “Just as he develops his pass rush, as he develops his counters, working with Ted Monachino, working with Khalil Mack, I just feel like he’s getting better and better. And so that’s going to be exciting to see, specifically in his pass rush. I just feel like his repertoire, his toolbox, has grown.”
If you’ve been paying attention, this isn’t the first time Floyd’s tool box has gotten love this offseason. He’s been riding a building wave of momentum since last November — and many have taken notice.
But Trubisky’s growth has also been well-documented, and Pace expounded more on the subject Sunday, specifically the accuracy — and at times lack thereof — from his young quarterback.
“I think he’s a naturally accurate thrower. And I think as you play longer in this offense and that timing comes into fruition, you get used to these receivers, you develop a chemistry with them, the touch goes into those throws,” Pace said. “I think you see that more and more as we go on, and that’s encouraging. We saw it in the offseason program and we expect to see that continue.”
Matt Nagy said in June that Trubisky’s accuracy in practice, charted carefully by the analytics department, was “more than fine.” But it doesn’t take a football savant to see in his film last season the at times wide gulf between his 66 percent completion rate and ball placement, especially the deeper he drove it downfield.
“I think whenever there’s anything like that that happens on any side of the ball any place in the game, we always want to see, ‘OK, why did this happen first of all? Was it the route? What happened?’ Because sometimes it’s not all on him or on that player.
“But then you’re right; there are certain mechanical things as a young quarterback that you’re constantly improving at. And Matt does a great job with that, Dave Ragone and Mark Helfrich do a great job with that. We’ve surrounded [Trubisky] with a lot of really good coaches, and he’s eager to take that teaching and you feel him getting better because of that.”
Cliche or not, the NFL remains a QB-driven league, and we get it if Pace was treading a bit more lightly in assessing Trubisky than Floyd. After all, Floyd wasn’t selected eight spots before the reigning league MVP; if anything, despite Floyd’s up-and-down NFL start, the pick might look even better now with the benefit of hindsight. Round 1 of the 2016 draft isn’t pretty after the top seven picks.
The bottom line is that the Bears likely can’t reach what they feel should be their final destination this season — Miami in February — without Floyd and Trubisky each building on their 2018 breakthroughs. And Pace has done everything in his power to take pressure off his homegrown quarterback and pass rusher in the way he’s surrounded them with the proper developmental tools.
“The word that comes to mind for me is incremental improvement, steady incremental improvement, and I think we’ve seen him do that,” Pace said of Trubisky. “And as long as he just keeps on that pace, steady incremental improvement, we’ll be happy. You can feel his confidence growing; we’ve talked about that. Chemistry, continuity, all those things going into Year 2, and that’s going to continue as we go forward.”