Will John Fox Survive for Mitchell Trubisky’s ‘Second Mile’?
(973espn.com) — The comparison is as obvious as it gets and the Chicago Bears are hoping the result is at least somewhat proportionate.
A year after the Eagles moved mountains to get up to No. 2 overall in the NFL draft to select Carson Wentz, Chicago general manager Ryan Pace gave up some draft capital he probably didn't need to in order to leapfrog San Francisco and ensure Mitchell Trubisky would be the future in the Windy City.
Fast forward to Sunday and Wentz is an MVP candidate on the NFL's best team preparing to host Trubisky and the Bears in the latter's seventh-career start.
While Wentz has been a natural, Trubisky has proven to be more of a project, a talented template with only 13 college starts at North Carolina who the Bears have tried to integrate into their offense slowly.
The plans started out similar. Wentz was supposed to learn under Sam Bradford until circumstance in Minnesota forced Howie Roseman to act, turning damaged goods into what turned out to be Derek Barnett and Jay Ajayi while handing the keys to the franchise to his future a year earlier than expected.
Wentz ultimately persevered during a 7-9 rookie season in which he had eight days notice on, perhaps the worst receiving group and the NFL, and lost talented right tackle Lane Johnson to a 10-game PED suspension.
In Chicago, Mike Glennon was supposed to be the bridge but ineffectiveness limited that plan to four games and the worst team in the NFC North pulled the trigger early on Trubisky to mixed results so far.
The good is that Trubisky has stayed away from the mistakes that typically plague young quarterbacks, throwing just two interceptions in his first 145 passing attempts. The bad is that offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains has scaled things back to a first-grade level by NFL standards when it comes to his offense, often rolling Trubisky out to cut the field in half and give the UNC product simple high-low reads.
In a Week 7 win over Carolina Trubisky was only allowed to throw it seven times. To be fair, though, Loggains is slowly putting more on his young QB's plate each and every week best exemplified by Trubisky's average of over 32 pass attempts per game since that game against the Panthers.
The problems, though, remain evident in that more work for Trubisky has produced setbacks against New Orleans, Green Bay and Detroit, although the Bears have generally been competitive.
“They’ve been easing me into it," Trubisky admitted earlier this week when asked about Loggains' offense. “But I feel like I’ve been able to handle it from the get-go. They’re trusting me more and more to open up this offense, and putting more responsibility on my plate because they think I’m ready for it."
Embattled head coach John Fox agreed with that assessment.
“He’s been making steady improvement," Fox claimed. “Our coaches have done a really good job with him as far as what they’re asking and expecting."
Eagles' rookie receiver Mack Hollins played with Trubisky in Chapel Hill last season and believes Trubisky will be joining Wentz as one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL.
"He’s a great player," Hollins insisted. "It’s like Carson. It’s hard to explain what 'it' is. But he’s got 'it.'"
Doug Pederson lived through the rookie QB thing last season and ended with a product that was prime-time ready. According to the Eagles coach, it's about incremental improvement.
“The one thing we tried to do with Carson last year was show incremental improvement each week," Pederson explained. "... With a young quarterback, you get him coached up during the week, but you really want to see those incremental improvements on Sundays and use that as fuel for your off-season, like we did with Carson. Be able to show him and watch the tape and build from that."
Philadelphia has Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich watching that tape who both played the position for over a decade at the professional level, however.
The Bears, on the other hand, have Fox, a 62-year-old defensive-minded mentor and a 5-foot-6 coordinator in Loggains, who caught the eye of Houston Nutt at Arkansas as a Rudy-like member of the scout team and eventually turned into a holder and pseudo-assistant.
There's at least an opportunity Pace could change course and bring in a more favorable environment for a QB to thrive like the Los Angeles Rams did this offseason to help Jared Goff.
“I’ve never worried about a job ever and won’t start now," Fox asserted. “I’ve been in the league 28 years now. I do this for the competition and have a great passion for it."
Whatever the end game is, Fox believes in his young QB even though he understands there will be hiccups along the way.
“It takes a year just to develop a pro-preparation mindset," Fox explained. "Because it’s a completely different game than they’re accustomed to. Both the length of it and the demands. It’s a hard adjustment for any rookie, especially a quarterback.
“I’ve always compared a rookie’s first year to being a miler your whole life, and all of a sudden, you’re a two-miler —but they don’t tell you until the first mile is over and you still have the second mile to run."
The big question in Chicago remains whether or not Fox will get the opportunity to see that second mile.
-John McMullen is a national football columnist for Extra Points Media and 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen