Rookie Quarterbacks Are Delicate Things. Best Leave Them Alone.
The NFL is cruel. Only three plays into their very first live action, the Chicago Bears offence put six points on the board – for the other team. In that moment, time became a flat circle and the future became a miserable six month wasteland waiting to unfold. Not 30 minutes later, just before the end of the half, the flat circle suddenly started to shine.
The shine may have been the glare of light off his helmet, but rookie Quarterback Mitch Trubisky shone nonetheless. With the ease begetting a top-five draft pick, he led the Bears offence to a touchdown. Over the next two quarters, he didn’t miss a pass until his eighth attempts and generally looked like a guy who knew how to play quarterback.
Like all rookie QB's who look good in the pres-season, the circumstances played a factor. As long as Trubisky gets to play at home two quarters at a time against mostly backups learning how to play their base defence after the presumed starter wraps himself in a blanket and lights it on fire without the pressure of winning a starting job, Mitch Trubisky may just be the guy.
Chicago Bears fans are already cheering him off the field. Chicago beat writers are preparing themselves to see him taking more important snaps during camp.
If you ask me, I hope he stays third on the depth chart for one more week.
With rookie quarterbacks, everyone has a ‘plan’ or a ‘process’ to properly develop them. Play him day one, sit him until the season is lost, send him for mani-pedi’s to feel relaxed – everyone has a plan.
It’s all bullsh*t. The best plan, the best process, is to coach his ass up until he’s the best player at the position on the roster. That’s it. Simple. Matter of fact.
The best way to learn is to play, maybe, but it's also the best way to get wrecked. It’s a paradox. Handing the starting job to a rookie because someone ahead of them played poor makes it about the other player. Handing the starting job to a rookie by default doesn’t prepare them mentally for the inevitable struggle. Don’t give him a pitch count. Don’t tell him he’s competing to start. Don’t have an arbitrary deadline for when you feel it’s ok to start him.
The best way for a rookie to learn is to be given no expectations. Expectations in the NFL are terrible things. It makes teams expecting to be good lose focus when they hit a rough patch. It makes players lose focus when they think they're guaranteed a starting job.
Worse, expectations extend into the public. I say, tell anyone who will listen that Trubisky isn't competing for the starting job - until he's won the competition for the starting job. No one will remember in three or four weeks that Mike Glennon was totally undermined by this approach if Trubisky has played well enough to earn it - because that's what everyone wants anyways.
We don’t have to go back very far to find a similar situation that played out. Russell Wilson wasn't supposed to win a starting job with the Seahawks after being drafted. Seattle brought in Matt Flynn on big money and Tarvaris Jackson to compete for that job. Wilson was an afterthought - until he was the man. While it’s even more difficult to dance to that tune when you've traded up to number two in the Draft to take Trubisky, at a minimum it takes the load of Trubisky and puts it on someone who's shoulders can handle it.
There is no playbook for how to handle a rookie QB. The ocean has sunk so many rookies quarterbacks for so many years. Every coach, GM, scout, and player will believe in a different method for how to swim it. The best thing to do then is have no method other than good, quality coaching and placing zero expectations on the player publicly or in the locker room. Tell the world you’re just out for a paddle on the ocean, wait until the wave crests, then ride the sh*t out of the wave. Your chances of drowning are high either way.
Rhys Dowbiggin @Rdowb
Rhys is the host of The Hurt Take on Not The Public Broadcaster