If you can’t beat ’em, copy ’em.
OK, so that’s not quite how the saying goes but I think you’ll catch my drift.
As we discussed during the regular season, teams like the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles left a blueprint for the Chicago Bears to follow should they want to give quarterback Mitch Trubisky a fighting shot to lead his team to glory one day. And as it turns out, that’s exactly what GM Ryan Pace did – signing Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, and Taylor Gabriel, among others – to open up free agency.
“I have big expectations and big plans for this team,” Trubisky told Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune. “I’m going to have a bunch of help with these new guys coming in, with Nagy and his staff. We’ve just got a lot of offensive wisdom that came into the building. So I’m very fortunate.”
Trubisky called it “a perfect situation to really emerge” and he couldn’t be more right.
It’s only natural for Trubisky to be thinking big one week after the dust settled on what was a rapid-fire first round of free agency. And why wouldn’t he be? Three new pass-catchers in Robinson, Gabriel, and Burton to go along with two backup quarterbacks who can share their knowledge with the starting quarterback should have Trubisky feeling some type of way.
Of course, Trubisky isn’t alone in being excited about what is coming down the pipeline. And that has us excited. It’s one thing for us to be geeked about shiny new things, but it feels different when a respected NFL analyst who was a former player and scout shares in the optimism.
Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks sees the pieces as falling into place after Pace ripped pages from the respective playbooks of two teams who engineered remarkable single-season turnarounds.
“If imitation is the highest form of flattery, Ryan Pace has really tipped his hat to Howie Roseman and Les Snead,” Brooks said in a video shared by NFL Network, referencing the leaders of the Eagles and Rams front offices, respectively. “He is copying their blueprint to get the young quarterback going.”
Let’s detail two key objectives of The Plan that Pace has successfully completed:
- Hire highly regarded offensive coaching to team with defensive excellence
Before there was Matt Nagy and Vic Fangio, there was Sean McVay and Wade Phillips in Los Angeles. And before them, Philadelphia had Doug Pederson and Jim Schwartz.
The Rams and Eagles made home-run hires that were so good, their coaching staffs were poached as soon as humanly possible.
Rams offensive coordinator Matt LaFluer was hired away by the Titans for the same position, but with more responsibilities as the lead offensive voice under a defensive-minded head coach like Mike Vrabel. Quarterbacks coach Greg Olson followed LaFluer out the door, traveling upstate to join Jon Gruden’s staff as the Raiders’ offensive coordinator.
The Eagles’ brain drain began before the Super Bowl buzz could even wear off. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich departed for the Indianapolis Colts head coaching position after Josh McDaniels got cold feet at the last minute. Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo (a one-time Bears head coaching candidate) left to take over the Minnesota Vikings’ offensive coordinator position left vacant by Pat Shurmur (another Bears coaching candidate) who left for the New York Giants.
If the Bears are fortunate and things go well, teams will be trying to swipe their mojo by plucking branches off this coaching tree in 2019.
- Invest in experienced receivers with upside
The Bears were aggressive on the open market in signing Robinson and Gabriel right away. These aren’t just splash signings, they’re also sensible. Brooks slots Robinson as the “X” receiver lined up on the back side of the formation where he can take care of 1-on-1 matchups. He also slides Gabriel into the slot, though, that’s not quite where Gabriel will always be. Gabriel is better suited to use his speed to take the top off a defense or catching quick passes in space to create chunk plays.
Los Angeles employed a similar roster-building strategy last offseason with the team trading for Sammy Watkins, signing Robert Woods, and drafting Cooper Kupp. Philadelphia signed Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith and teamed them with former first-round pick Nelson Agholor. And we all know how that turned out for Eagles fans.
Teaming a young quarterback with exclusively young receivers is risky. There is so much to learn from a receivers perspective with regards to route trees, options, and responsibilities, that it can prove to be too much to handle for even the most talented rookie receivers. Hence, the need to add players who know what to do and how to do it in order to guide the developing quarterback.
If Trubisky looks more comfortable next year than he did at any point as a rookie, you can probably thank the influx of experienced talent.
So, why the excitement?
That’s a fair question to ask. Trubisky still has a lot of growth to make. He’ll need to be a quick learner of Matt Nagy’s offense and must get his offensive weapons up to speed, too.
All things considered, it sounds like Brooks believes Trubisky can do it in Year 2, much like Carson Wentz and Jared Goff did in their second seasons.
“I expect him to take a major jump this year,” Brooks said of Trubisky. “Personnel, scheme, everything is designed to get him going this season.”