All systems are go for the highly-anticipated quarterback competition between Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles. But the battle won't officially begin until the Bears start practicing.
Although veterans returned to Halas Hall last week for the first time since the end of last season, they've been limited to strength and conditioning work and walkthrough sessions. An agreement reached between the NFL and NFL Players Association stipulates that teams can start holding non-contact practices next Friday and padded workouts Aug. 17.
With all offseason workouts and preseason games cancelled due to COVID-19, the competition between Trubisky and Foles will be conducted entirely on the practice field in Lake Forest.
"Though we evaluate players on how they do in meetings and all aspects of being around them, what's most important is obviously when we start practicing full speed," offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said Thursday during a video call with the media.
The Bears plan to conduct the competition on a level playing field, with both quarterbacks receiving the same number of reps with and against the same teammates.
"Whatever drill we're doing—whether it's a live drill or a drill on the side with me—we want it to be tremendously competitive," quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo said Thursday on a video call with the media. "But in that competitive environment, you want to see which guy moves this offense better, and I think it just really comes down to something as simple as that.
"When you're in the huddle, who's functioning better? Which guy is raising the other 10 guys' level of play? Hopefully one of those guys steps up in that role sooner rather than later. That would be great for our football team. But we'll take it out as long as we need to to make the best choice for our football team. But I think it's who moves our football team and converts on third down."
The evaluation of the quarterbacks will involve more than just end results, such as touchdowns and interceptions.
"We're going to take it to the next level a little bit in terms of accuracy, in terms of timing, decision-making," DeFilippo said. "We're going to not just grade whether the ball was completed or not. We're going to try to dive into who's the more accurate guy, who threw it on time, maybe who was the more mobile guy, who got us the first down with his feet; little things that you have to make sure of for both guys."
If Trubisky or Foles would like to know how they're faring in training camp, all they have to do is ask one of their coaches.
"The only way we know how to operate around here is open and honest," DeFilippo said. "So those guys are going to know where they stand. There is going to be no hiding it. There's going to be no beating around the bush. If those guys come and ask me how they're playing, I'm going to be flat out honest with them. They may disagree with you, but at least they can respect that, that you were up front and honest with them."
While Lazor and DeFilippo are entering their first seasons with the Bears, both have previously worked with Foles. In 2013, Lazor was Eagles quarterbacks coach when Foles lost a competition for the starting job with Michael Vick. But after Vick was injured in the fifth game of the season, Foles replaced him and quarterbacked Philadelphia to the NFC East title, passing for 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions and leading the NFL with a 119.2 passer rating.
"I just remember that he never stopped developing," Lazor said. "He was a young player at the time. He continued to work and work and work. When the decision was made that Michael Vick would start, there was no blinking for Nick. He just kept going. When Michael got hurt and Nick went in, he just took off and kept getting better and better and better. So I guess that would be the biggest thing as a coach, that it didn't affect his desire to continue to improve."
Four years later in 2017, DeFilippo served as Eagles quarterbacks coach when Foles replaced an injured Carson Wentz late in the season and led Philadelphia to its first Super Bowl title.
Although Lazor and DeFilippo are just beginning to work in-person with Trubisky for the first time, both have been impressed with the fourth-year pro.
"He's shown great recall, which I think is a critical part for the quarterback," Lazor said. "When we're talking about installing a play, he can talk about when it was put in, why it was put in, what the situations were, even what happened. In our walk-through situations, if we ask him to do something that's different, he's able to do it. If something comes up and I say, 'You know what? We don't want to do that situation this year.' Maybe it's a brand-new cadence. But he can take it and change it and make the correction and go with it."
"He's been open to new ideas," DeFilippo said, "of hearing a different voice and maybe a little bit different way of taking a drop, whether it's to the left or to the right. He's been very open about that since he and I have been face-to-face on the field as well. That's all you can ask from a player."