By Chris Emma—
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (CBS) – The ball went snapped to the hands of Bears rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and fell to the fresh cut at Olivet Nazarene. The whistle quickly sounded, and the play was ruled dead.
Three times, Trubisky mishandled a snap Saturday in the first full-speed, full-padded practice for the Bears’ training camp this season. Coach John Fox reminded that it takes two to make a successful center-quarterback exchange, while Trubisky was hard on himself for “wasted plays” in practice.
Those thousands of fans who trekked to Bourbonnais on Saturday morning were reminded why the Bears are so adamant with their quarterback situation. Mike Glennon is the starter, and Mark Sanchez is the backup. Trubisky is redshirting this season
Trubisky has started just 13 games since high school in Mentor, Ohio. Mistakes are natural for any rookie transitioning to this level, but especially a young quarterback with limited reps in college. Live game reps will be crucial for Trubisky, but make no mistake – that’s the final step to his development. These snaps in practice mark the beginning of his NFL growth.
“You’ve got to prepare like you’re the starter,” Trubisky said Saturday after his first NFL practice in full pads. “Don’t take any days off, and just keep getting better in the meantime. That’s out of my control. Redshirt year or not, you’ve got to keep getting better, because when you’re called upon, you’ve got to be ready to rock and roll.”
The Bears will be patient with every aspect of Trubisky’s development. Before he can even take the snap, Trubisky must change protections at the line of scrimmage. Leading an NFL offense is different from the college level. Reading a defense is even more challenging.
What’s clear with Trubisky is the natural talent. He throws a great ball and moves well in the pocket. The abilities are evident, even in the first days of practice.
But there are going to be fumbled snaps, poor reads in coverage and more growing pains along the way. This is all part of the progression for a young quarterback. Once the Bears deem Trubisky ready, there’s no turning back from that decision.
Time is on Trubisky’s side.
“As a competitor, you want to play in any situation,” he said. “But you’re just got to be aware of your situation and make the best out of it. You’ve got to believe in the people that have the plan in place and just believe in that plan.”
Willie sees the potential
Three offseasons have made a major difference for the Bears defense. The tall task of general manager Ryan Pace and his front office has brought together a group that they hope could win some games on its own.
Not long removed from the darkest days of the Bears’ defensive identity, they have a unit with major potential. Edge rusher Willie Young was there in 2014 when everything fell apart for the defense. He remains a key piece for the Bears as they move forward with promise.
“When you piece it all together the way Ryan Pace has so far, it looks really good for us right now,” Young said of the defense. “I haven’t been able to say that for a while. I’ve always felt really good about my teammates, but right now there’s definitely a different energy about the team.”
The loss of linebacker Pernell McPhee – who underwent a knee scope Friday – brought bad news to open training camp. McPhee has been placed on the physically-unable-to-perform list, where his status will be evaluated as the recovery from Friday’s procedure continues on.
Even with McPhee sidelined, the Bears are in a solid place at outside linebacker. The presence of Young is important at one of the team’s top positions. Lamarr Houston is another capable veteran who can jump right in with the first-team defense.
Then there’s second-year linebacker Leonard Floyd, who has noticeably bulked up this offseason. Floyd is overcoming one of the greatest concerns in that regard. His finesse is clearly improved, too.
The Bears boast a dynamic pass rush with versatility at the hands of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
“We all bring something different to the table,” Young said. “We got different kinds of guys. I’m excited about what we have. You can’t go wrong. At any given moment, any one of us is liable to make a big play.”
Count on Cam
It’s hard to believe how far receiver Cameron Meredith has come in the early stages of his NFL career. Two years ago, he was settling into his first training camp. Last July, he was fighting for a roster spot. Meredith didn’t even dress for the first two games in 2016.
Funny how it can change. The Bears enter this season without Alshon Jeffery and still wondering what Kevin White can become after two surgeries. They’ve added other pieces at receiver but have few solutions so far. Unless someone emerges, the Bears should look right back to their incumbent No. 1 at receiver.
“I want to go out there and make every catch,” Meredith said. “I want to be a reliable guy.”
Meredith posted 66 receptions for 888 yards and four touchdowns last season while essentially filling the shoes of White. His breakout season came while playing with three different starting quarterbacks.
The veteran Glennon enters this season as the Bears’ starter, and he needs to identify those go-to targets. That’s where somebody like Meredith can be instrumental.
Meredith doesn’t have the monster frame or breakaway speed. He’s just a steady player with a lot to offer.
“What’s intriguing about him is just with his size and stature, his ability to get in and out of breaks, his route quickness, and then his catching radius,” Pace said. “He’s got really good body control to kind of make adjustments on balls thrown behind and outside his frame. He’s a very good route runner for his size.”
Extra points: Kyle Long didn’t participate with the Bears during their first practice in full pads. Fox made it clear that the team is easing Long back into action after a long offseason recovery from ankle surgery. He reminded that the target date is Sept. 10, the season opener against the Falcons … Third-year running back Jeremy Langford didn’t practice with the team Saturday, his second straight day out of action after turning an ankle earlier this week … Bryce Callahan won a unique competition at practice by catching a punt with three other footballs in his grasp, narrowly edging out rookie Tarik Cohen, who caught a punt with two footballs in hand … The Bears return to the practice field on Sunday at 10:30 a.m.