Mitch Trubisky missed the first two games because of injury in his NFL career last season thanks to an illegal hit by Minnesota Vikings S Harrison Smith and the quarterback opting to dive rather than slide at the end of a five-yard gain on a zone read play in Week 11.With the Bears in their four-minute offense and looking to salt away a late eight-point advantage, Trubisky made the correct read, followed a block by Trey Burton and seemingly created a positive outcome with his legs for the offense — a fairly common occurrence last season forone of the league’s most effective dual-threat quarterbacks.
And although Trubisky and the Bears were fortunate the injury wasn’t worse, as he was back after two games and returned to his previous top form — as a passer — in less than a month, it was notable that he wasn’t as effective upon his return as a runner.
Trubisky, who ironically was injured that night at Soldier Field on his career-high 10thcarry, averaged 4-13 rushing over his final five games, down from 5-36 prior to Week 11.
And perhaps the injury affected the short-term willingness of Trubisky as a runner and Matt Nagy as a play caller to further expose the franchise’s most valuable asset outside the pocket. Regardless, don’t expect the Bears to try and tame Trubisky’s running this season.
“No, I see that as a huge weapon, and other teams do, too, so … I’ll never take that away from him. … If we don’t use that weapon, we’re foolish as coaches,” Nagy says. “I want him to be able to use his legs when he can, and that’s somebody else that [defenses] need to quote, unquote double. And now the next question is taking the extra hits. And I think that’s where we’ve got to make sure we explain to him certain scenarios when to get down. He knows how to slide. So that’s a positive, that’s a start. So he has a good feel for that. We want to use his legs.”
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, not from the mouth of one of the NFL’s more innovative offensive coaches at a time when the league seemingly has never had this many talented dual-threat quarterbacks playing simultaneously. Of course, that fact only magnifies the running effectiveness of Trubisky, whose 421 rushing yards ranked fifth among all NFL passers but 42.6 % first-down conversion rate trailed only Buffalo’s Josh Allen among qualifiers (minimum of 50-plus rushes).
Plus, with a more flexible stable of backs, the threat Trubisky can pose in the zone-read series only figures to increase. With defenses likely more concerned about the versatility and big-play potential of David Montgomery and Mike Davis than Jordan Howard, not to mention the Bears’ improved O-line, Trubisky’s running lanes could be even more plentiful.
Trubisky was regularly at his best last season outside the structure of plays, where he seemed to break the defense’s back late in downs on a weekly basis. And although the Bears need him to become more consistent in making decisions and throwing with precision from clean pockets while, they hope, maintaining his mobility trump card, it’s fair to wonder whether some of the concerns cropping up in camp, when he’s not threatened by the rush, might correct themselves when the real bullets begin flying.
“I think I just want to use it when it comes natural and play within the timing of this … but when things break down, definitely use my natural ability to extend plays with my legs, pick up first downs or just extend plays that allow the receivers more time to get open,” he says. “I think it’s definitely helped this offense, especially last year, so I’ve just got to continue to utilize that, make sure that the defense respects that and hopefully it opens up a lot of other guys in the offense.”
But just as it’s a fine line between putting the quarterback in unnecessary harm’s way, the Bears seem cognizant about ensuring that Trubisky doesn’t become one dimensional, arguably like Allen at this young juncture of his career.
“We’re telling him to just play football,” Nagy said. “Don’t try to run more because now you don’t become a great passer. Don’t try to run less because now you don’t use your strength, right? So just play. Whatever happens happens, but when you do run, get out of bounds, get down, just don’t take the extra hit.”
Because while few of us may be able to agree on Trubisky’s progression and potential as a passer, we’re likely all on the same page about this much: He’s incredibly dynamic on the move, but if that leads to any more scrambling atop the QB depth chart than it did last season, the Bears are in trouble.