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Bears training camp preview: Quarterbacks

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The following is the first of nine position previews in advance of training camp.

There promises to be a slew of intriguing storylines to follow in Bears training camp this summer. But none will garner as much attention as the battle for the starting quarterback position between Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles.

It will be the first time the Bears will have conducted an open competition for the all-important position in camp since 2008 when Kyle Orton was anointed the winner over Rex Grossman prior to the third preseason game.

The starting job has belonged to Trubisky since the fifth game of his rookie season in 2017. But after the offense regressed in 2019, the Bears entered the offseason determined to create competition at quarterback.

After evaluating all of their options, they ultimately acquired Foles in a trade with the Jaguars in exchange for a compensatory fourth-round draft pick.

"With the addition of Nick Foles, it's exactly what we talked about from the start," general manager Ryan Pace said April 3. "We've increased competition at a critical position and we talked to both players, and the way we view this is it's an open competition. And credit to both those guys for embracing it."

Foles was considered a perfect fit

There were many more quality quarterbacks available in free agency this offseason than usual. But the Bears viewed Foles as a perfect fit—mainly due to the success he's had in the NFL as well as his familiarity with Bears coaches and the team's offense.

Foles, 31, has appeared in 58 NFL games with 48 starts over eight seasons with the Eagles (2012-14, 2017-18), Rams (2015), Chiefs (2016) and Jaguars (2019). The 6-6, 243-pounder has completed 61.8 percent of his passes for 11,901 yards with 71 touchdowns, 35 interceptions and an 88.2 passer rating.

In his second season with the Eagles in 2013, Foles was voted to the Pro Bowl after passing for a career-high 2,891 yards with 27 touchdowns, two interceptions and a league-leading 119.2 passer rating.

After one-year stints with the Rams and Chiefs, Foles returned to the Eagles in 2017. When starter Carson Wentz sustained a season-ending knee injury in Week 14, Foles stepped in and helped lead Philadelphia to the first Super Bowl championship in franchise history.

In three playoff wins, Foles threw for 971 yards and six touchdowns with a 115.7 rating. He earned MVP honors in Super Bowl LII after leading the Eagles to a 41-33 victory over the Patriots by passing for 373 yards and three TDs with a 106.1 rating and catching a 1-yard touchdown pass from former Bears tight end Trey Burton on a trick play dubbed the "Philly Special."

"We knew there were going to be a lot of options at quarterback in this free-agency period," Pace said. "We knew we'd have an opportunity to increase competition there with those options that existed. So we kind of went through each one of those and talked about each one. When we got to Nick, it was really a collective effort. [He's] just a talented player, and the fact that he's played in some big games and performed well in those big games, that carries a lot of weight.

"Then you have a lot of people in our building that are comfortable with him as a person and the makeup, which just made the decision easier. That all kind of came together to make him a target for us and someone we wanted to aggressively go get."

Bears coach Matt Nagy worked with Foles as an offensive quality coach with the Eagles in 2012 and Chiefs offensive coordinator in 2016. New Bears offensive coordinator Bill Lazor was Eagles quarterbacks coach in 2013 when Foles passed for 27 TDs and two interceptions, while new Bears quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo worked with Foles as Eagles quarterbacks coach in 2017 when Philadelphia won the Super Bowl and as Jaguars offensive coordinator last season.

"That's something that's really easy for a lot of people to connect the dots with," Nagy said April 3. "That certainly helps. More than anything, it's relationships and being able to understand how these coaches teach. ... You build relationships through high times and low times, so that's a part of it. But in the end, it's about the player and it's about what they can do … it's about who Nick is as a player, obviously what he's been as a person and just competition. We really hope it's a win-win for the Chicago Bears. We know it's going to bring the best out of both of these guys just because of who they are as people and what their makeup is. That's the exciting part."

Foles excited for opportunity with Bears

Since Foles entered the NFL in 2012 as a third-round pick with the Eagles, he's experienced extreme highs and lows.

In the last three years alone, he has won a Super Bowl championship and been named the game's MVP, signed a lucrative free-agent contract, suffered a serious injury and been benched in favor of rookie Gardner Minshew.

The ups and downs have given Foles a great appreciation for the chance to compete for the Bears' starting position.

"I'm excited for this opportunity," Foles said April 5. "Going through my career, it's been an interesting curve. It's been all over the place, which has honestly allowed me to go through a lot of different things and gain a lot of wisdom from it.

"But the opportunity to be a full-time starter and make it through a season and do those things is something I think any player would love to do in the right situation. So this opportunity to have that, I'm excited for it, I really am."

Trubisky embraces competition for job

Trubisky wasn't surprised when the Bears traded for Foles. Not after Pace had revealed a few weeks earlier at the NFL Combine that he planned to create competition at the position.

"It was kind of interesting to me, but that's the business that we're in," Trubisky said June 12. "I think I was kind of pissed off, in a good way. I've been motivated ever since. I've been motivated since our season ended last year. I didn't feel like it went the way we wanted to, and we left a lot out there. But I'm excited for this year. I think it's going to be a good competition.

"Foles has had a crazy career as well, so it's been cool having him in our room talking ball. I know we're going to push each other. But I still feel like this is my team and I'm excited for the competition and to just get back on the field with my guys and show everybody what I can still do and how hard I've been working this offseason to help the Bears win games this year. It's been interesting. But again, it's a business decision and I'm all for the Bears getting better and helping us win games."

Selected by the Bears with the second pick in the 2017 draft, Trubisky played in the Pro Bowl following the 2018 season after helping lead the team to the NFC North championship with a 12-4 record. The North Carolina product passed for 3,223 yards with 24 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and a 95.4 rating and also rushed for 421 yards and three TDs.

Last season Trubisky threw for 3,138 yards with 17 TDs, 10 interceptions and an 83.0 rating and also rushed for 193 yards and two TDs.

Trubisky is eager to begin battling for the starting job. With the Bears having conducted their entire offseason program on a virtual basis due to the coronavirus, the competition won't truly begin until the team returns to the practice field at Halas Hall later this month for the start of training camp.

"I'm going to handle it the way I know how, and that's just show everybody who I am," Trubisky said. "Go out there and compete. Be myself. Be the competitive person I am and prove to my teammates and to coach Nagy that I deserve to be the starter on this team and that I still am a leader of this team and I give us the best chance to go out there and win games.

"I'm very confident where I'm at right now and what I can still do for this team, and me and coach have had great conversations about how we can just fix the problems of what happened last year and how we can get better for this year. It's been all positive conversation. Coach Nagy and I are both competitive people and we just want to win games and do what's best for this team. So there has been great conversations and we're just trying to find solutions of how we can get better and how we can all get on the same page to make our offense be a lot better than it was last year.

"I'm going to play my heart and soul out for this team and give it everything I've got."

Competition will be held on level playing field

Trubisky will take the first reps in the first practice the Bears conduct. But the competition for the starting job will be waged on a level playing field.

"Mitch is going to be out there [first]," Nagy said. "But at the same time, it's going to be equal and we as coaches need to make sure we do the right thing in regards to equal reps and make sure they're playing with similar or the same players on offense and going against the same players on defense.

"There will be some juggling that we have to do. It might be a little different at times on how we do it and how we get to it. But I can promise you this: It's going to be completely fair. It's going to be extremely competitive in a good way. It's going to be a healthy competitiveness. In the end for us, it's going to be a collaboration of what we all feel and I think that that's all that those guys really ask for or want as competitors."

"This is an open competition," Pace said. "They've both been told that and I think it's the best way to do it. I think the good thing is just honesty and transparency with both players as we go through it. We want what's best for the Chicago Bears; it's as simple as that, and that really applies to any position on our team. For this situation, we'll let these guys battle it out, let the process naturally happen and over time that decision will be made."

Part of the process will include Trubisky and Foles both playing in preseason games—along with other starters. It's a departure of how Nagy has handled the preseason in his first two seasons as Bears coach when he kept most key players on the sideline.

"They're going to play in preseason," Nagy said. "It'll be equal reps and it'll be a good competition for them. And, again, that kind of goes in tune with what we're doing really with our whole team."

How competition will be decided

In June, Nagy shared some insight about the criteria that will determine the winner of the competition.

"To me, you can sense it, you feel it, the efficiency, the productivity within the special situations that you have," Nagy said. "Is it base first or second down? Are you making the correct adjustments at the line of scrimmage to pick up a blitz? How accurate are you on specific throws? Are you playing smart in the red zone?

"What's your mentality? What's your communication like at the line of scrimmage with the wide receivers when you're going two-minute, no huddle? And then how are you handling the coaching?"

The next part, which Nagy describes as the most challenging due to OTAs and minicamp being cancelled, is showing consistent improvement and rebounding from adversity.

"There's going to be a bad day," Nagy said. "Shoot, everybody has bad days. But do you respond to that, or are there three bad days in a row whereas somebody else has three good days in a row? So that's how you'll do that.

"Preseason games, reps, playing more, creating more reps, having the ability to have both those quarterbacks play with the same wide receivers and tight ends against the same defenses, that's going to be important. I do believe it'll naturally happen. I feel good with that. We have a good plan. And they understand it."

Bray considered a valuable resource

The Bears will also bring a third quarterback to training camp in Tyler Bray, who has split time on the team's active roster and practice squad the past two seasons but has not appeared in a regular-season game.

Bray is considered a valuable resource given that he spent five seasons as a backup with the Chiefs when Nagy served as Kansas City's quarterbacks coach (2013-15) and offensive coordinator (2016-17).

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