Can Trubisky take the next step?
First in a series
Mitch Trubisky is the most polarizing quarterback in Chicago since … Jay Cutler.
We're not sure what makes Bears signalcallers such lightning rods, but Trubisky clearly has plenty of detractors and devotees -- not all of them in the advanced analytics and Bears fan circles, respectively.
What's clear is that Trubisky has all the necessary tools entering Year 3 to rebuild or fortify the perception of him outside Halas Hall.
First, here are three burning questions that need answers from Trubisky and the Bears' quarterback room:
• Can Trubisky become more consistent on a down-to-down, game-to-game basis?
Last season, he more than tripled his rookie passing touchdown total (7 to 24), upped his rating more than 17 points (77.5 to 95.4) and elevated his adjusted yards per pass attempt from 6.1 to 7.3.
Trubisky also was among the league leaders at his position in rushing, ranking fifth with 421 yards, and he completed 66.6 percent of his throws -- the highest mark in franchise history by a quarterback with more than 200 attempts.
His four games with a passer rating north of 120 were another single-season Bears record, as were his quartet of 300-yard passing games, including a franchise-postseason best 303 in the wild-card loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Trubisky's development after a lost rookie season was immense.
But few would argue Trubisky didn't also leave plenty of meat on the bone, especially on throws (read: overthrows) more than 20 yards downfield, where his 38.5 completion percentage was nearly 4 points below the league average, according to Da Bears Blog's Johnathan Wood.
The game should continue slowing down this season for Trubisky, who earned rave reviews in the spring for his advanced knowledge of coach Matt Nagy's complex offense and eagerness to transition from on-field pupil to professor. But how he reacts with live action, when his brilliant off-script playmaking but also his erratic lower-body mechanics and field vision were on display last season, will be the true tale.
• Will the Bears keep three quarterbacks?
It seems unlikely. Although Tyler Bray returned in March on a one-year deal, the guaranteed portion is negligible. The Bears' improved roster depth means an increasingly difficult numbers game in establishing the 53. Bray's best attribute is his experience in Nagy's system, but Trubisky's growing familiarity and comfort level should offset that.
Moreover, Chase Daniel's $7 million guarantee is bigger than that of any backup outside of Teddy Bridgewater in New Orleans, making Bray a luxury the Bears probably won't be able to afford.
But it's fair to wonder whether the likely downsizing of the QB room compels the Bears to harness Trubisky's scrambling. We hope not because it's perhaps his greatest current strength. Trubisky was almost as effective on designed runs, often early in games and drives to build his confidence, as he was using his feet to improvise.
But he missed two starts after suffering a right-shoulder injury, albeit on a late hit, and Daniel was good enough to win with in his debut but a liability the next time out.
• Does Trubisky become the quarterback that the Bears win because of and not in spite of?
His last drive (really his last quarter against the Eagles), suggests it can be the former. Trubisky also answered the crunchtime bell in wins over the Green Bay Packers and New York Jets. He has shown the intangibles every great quarterback must possess, from intelligence and work ethic to the ability to galvanize his teammates with his toughness and moxie.
But the Bears need even more. Their defense almost certainly won't be providing the same number of short fields and scoring boosts this season, and the schedule is much more imposing, both reducing the margin of error for Trubisky and the offense.
• Trubisky will be among the best quarterbacks in football this season if …
We get resounding affirmatives to the first and third questions. Not trying to cop out, but Trubisky now has everything at his disposal -- internally and externally -- to fulfill his draft status. No excuses.
• The wheels will fall off this season if …
Obviously, Trubisky suffers a serious injury, but also if he struggles to protect the football. His 3.7 percent adjusted interception rate was fourth highest among non-rookie starters.