By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — When Mitchell Trubisky first arrived at North Carolina, the promising young quarterback had quite a process getting acclimated with his new team.
Upon a mumbling introduction of his name — Mitch Trubisky — a coach didn’t quite make it out right.
Alas, a nickname was born for him. In time, everyone in Chapel Hill knew his name, and the NFL took notice with his one year as the Tar Heels’ starting quarterback.
The Bears believed in Trubisky enough to send a haul to the 49ers and move up a spot in the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday, stunning the league by taking him second overall. Bears general manager Ryan Pace attached his career to the upside of a one-year college starter.
“The sky’s the limit to what I can do,” Trubisky said.
Having been part of a Super Bowl organization with the 2009 Saints, Pace knows well the importance of franchise quarterback. Drew Brees has been an elite player in this league ever since arriving in New Orleans and without him, Pace wouldn’t have that ring.
To win at the highest level in this league, it takes a great quarterback. Pace felt strongly enough about Trubisky that he ensured no leaks of the team’s interest came out. Trubisky and his party even played a part in the cover, as he said after the selection he had only met with the Bears once before.
But Pace, coach John Fox, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone and director of player personnel Josh Lucas all flew into Chapel Hill and had dinner and a private workout with Trubisky on top of talking with him at the NFL Combine. When they emerged to the parking lot, Trubisky walked to a beat-up old car, drawing laughs from the entire group. Pace told Trubisky to bring it with to Chicago. Trubisky wasn’t sure it would hold up for the trip.
They all went great lengths to protect this secret. All along, Pace planned to draft Trubisky. He was determined to make this pick.
“If we want to be great, you just can’t sit on your hands,” Pace said. “There are times when you’ve got to be aggressive, and when you have conviction on a guy, you can’t sit on your hands. I just don’t want to be average around here — I want to be great, and these are the moves you have to make.
“The most important position in all of sports is quarterback, and I don’t think you’re ever a great team until you address the position and you address it right. I think everybody should respect that. We’re addressing the quarterback position, we’re being aggressive with that position because it’s the most important position in sports.”
Trubisky, 22, completed 68 percent of his passes while throwing for 3,746 yards, 30 touchdowns and six interceptions in 2016. He’s big at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, with mobility that can benefit him at the next level. But how will it translate to the NFL?
Chicago has long waited for a franchise quarterback. It has seen Brett Favre lead to Aaron Rodgers just up the road in Green Bay — which has felt worlds away compared to the Bears’ recent existence.
But the circumstances of this pick are troubling. After finishing 3-13, the Bears traded four draft picks — the No. 3 overall pick, a third- and fourth-rounder in this draft and a 2018 third-rounder — for a developmental quarterback. They paid Mike Glennon starter money and now their best-case scenario involves a quarterback controversy in 2018 — or maybe even this season.
Pace often speaks of building a roster through the draft. In moving for Trubisky, he was forced to reconcile with dealing picks away. Friday expects to bring trades for additional picks, perhaps starting in the second round, in which the Bears hold the 36th overall selection.
Jaguars football boss Tom Coughlin praised rookie 49ers general manager John Lynch for his haul from the Bears as he met with reporters in Jacksonville. Lynch left the first round with defensive lineman Solomon Thomas and linebacker Reuben Foster, both of whom were projected as high picks. Pace’s convictions helped bring a haul to the Bay Area, and the league was left astonished by what the Bears gave up.
As for Pace?
“You always feel like there’s competition,” Pace said. “So, when you have conviction on something, you never know have the time, it’s like in free agency when the agent tells you he’s got three other teams he’s working with. You never really know. You’ve just got to trust your conviction on it and if you want a player you aggressively go get him.
“I didn’t want to sit on our hands and have some team jump us or (have it) not work out when we were this close, within reach of a player that we all really valued. I didn’t want to sit on our hands and risk not getting that player.”
Ultimately, what the Bears gave up for Trubisky won’t matter if he becomes what Pace envisions. This franchise has long been seeking a franchise quarterback, and perhaps Trubisky can be that player. He has a strong, accurate arm and the mobility to extend plays. It’s easy to see why the film impressed Pace.
There’s a lot to like about what Trubisky could become. He’s certainly confident in that upside.
“I’m only scratching the surface,” Trubisky said.
Maybe that will prove to be true, and Pace was right with his bold move. The Bears either have their franchise quarterback or mortgaged away picks that could prove crucial to winning in years to come.
Time will tell how Trubisky’s name will be remembered in Chicago.