Pace says Bears remain committed to Trubisky as starting QB

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - DECEMBER 22: Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky #10 of the Chicago Bears looks to pass during warm ups before taking on the Kansas City Chiefs in the game at Soldier Field on December 22, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Dylan Buel

The Chicago Bears remain committed to Mitchell Trubisky as their starting quarterback despite his struggles this season, general manager Ryan Pace said on Tuesday.

Pace stopped short of saying the Bears will exercise their fifth-year option on him and did not rule out bringing in an experienced veteran who could push for the starting job. But he made it clear the Bears expect Trubisky to open next season as their No. 1 quarterback.

“Mitch is our starter," Pace said. "We believe in Mitch and we believe in the progress that he’s gonna continue to make.”

Though the Bears are sticking with Trubisky, they are shaking up their coaching staff.

Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich and three other assistants were fired, the team announced on Tuesday. Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride and assistant special teams coach Brock Olivo were also let go.

Helfrich led Oregon to a 37-16 record and a run to the first College Football Playoff championship game as the Ducks' head coach from 2013 to 16. The Bears hired him as their offensive coordinator in 2018.

With coach Matt Nagy calling the plays, Chicago showed some flair before taking a step back this season. The Bears ranked 29th on offense, 27th in rushing, 25th in passing, 27th in touchdowns and 29th in scoring.

They were banking on Trubisky taking another big step in his third year in the NFL and second in Nagy's system. But instead of emerging as a top-tier quarterback, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft took a step back.

Chicago went 8-8 after winning the NFC North at 12-4 and missed the playoffs for the eighth time in nine years, certainly not what the Bears envisioned. They came in with Super Bowl hopes, only to fall out of the playoff running in the early going. And now, they're trying to pick up the pieces rather than prepare for the postseason run they had been expecting ever since they got knocked out in a gut-wrenching wild-card loss to Philadelphia last year.

“We won the division last year. You saw it," Pace said.

That's why he believes the Bears can bounce back next season even though they have no plans to change the quarterback or the play-caller, with Nagy retaining those duties. But he also acknowledged there is work to do.

“Our heads are not in the sand, like, ‘Everything’s fine, we're 8-8,'" he said.

Pace staked his reputation to Trubisky when he traded up a spot and drafted him ahead of Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes and Houston's Deshaun Watson. While Mahomes and Watson have emerged as stars, Trubisky has mixed flashes of promise with poor decisions and throws for Chicago.

His yards (3,138), completion rate (63.2 percent), touchdowns (17) and rating (83) all dropped from a year ago. He is 23-18 as a starter, and Pace said he might need surgery for an injury to his left, non-throwing shoulder he suffered against Minnesota in September.

“With a young quarterback, in a lot of cases, it’s never going to be a straight line, it’s never going to be linear,” Pace said. “There are going to be ups and downs. And you see moments this year, you see games, you see him responding to adverse situations within a game, those are signs of positive improvement. We just need to smooth out those inconsistencies.”

Even so, he said bringing in an experienced backup to push Trubisky is a possibility. Veteran Chase Daniel and third-stringer Tyler Bray have expiring contracts. As for exercising Trubisky's fifth-year option, Pace said the Bears are “not at that point right now with the season ending just two days ago.”

Nagy would like him to improve his footwork in the pocket, which the coach thinks would open up opportunities for him to run.

“There were times throughout this year where focusing on trusting the center of that pocket, pushing forward, and now he’s a running threat,” Nagy said. “He becomes a runner. So if they want to play two-man or they want to play different coverages where he can take off with his legs, he can do that.”

The Bears' problems certainly didn't end with Trubisky.

They ignored the run at times. They got little from their tight ends. They lacked consistent play-makers besides receiver Allen Robinson. Their line was ineffective and banged up, with right tackle Bobby Massie (ankle) and right guard Kyle Long (hip) suffering season-ending injuries. Long went on injured reserve for the fourth time in four years and might have played his final game with the Bears, though Pace wouldn't say if a decision on him has been made. The Bears' vaunted defense even took a step back, though it still ranked among the top 10.

It all added up to this.

Chicago once again failed to put together back-to-back winning seasons, something the Bears haven't done since 2005 and 2006.

Even so, chairman George McCaskey insisted his faith in Pace and Nagy remains strong.

“We can't be afraid to point the finger at ourselves,” McCaskey said. “Matt says he wants to know what he can do to make us better. Ryan wants to know what he can do to make us better. And the same applies to me. I want to know what I can do to make us better. Is it staffing? Is it resources? Is it facilities? Do I need to ask more questions? Do I need to ask fewer questions? It's a balancing act. You want to be involved, but you don't want to interfere. We'll just have to see how it plays out.”

Notes: Pace said LB Roquan Smith (pectoral muscle) and TE Taylor Gabriel (hip) had surgery and hope to be ready for training camp. He also said WR Anthony Miller will need an operation on his left shoulder for the second time in as many years.