Bears should not limit Mitch Trubisky if he proves capable of starting

The most popular Bears car since Lance Briggs' Lamborghini stood out in the players parking lot Friday at Halas Hall, a dusty 1997 beige Toyota Camry showing its age after 130,000 miles.

The North Carolina license plate on the front was a dead giveaway the sedan belonged to former Tar Heel quarterback Mitch Trubisky, the Bears' ballyhooed rookie. As local legend has it, Trubisky completed his first successful drive as a Bears quarterback, from Chapel Hill, N.C., to Lake Forest, and kept his pledge to general manager Ryan Pace by arriving in the vehicle handed down from his grandmother.

He might as well have ridden in on a white horse.

One could argue there will be players more valuable to the Bears next season, but none are more important than Trubisky, the No. 2 overall pick who represents so much to so many. Belief quickly has spread that the Bears can't possibly consider playing Trubisky in the present without risking his future development. Blame groupthink, which can be tougher to escape in Chicago sports than rush-hour traffic.

Step back and ask yourself: If Trubisky clearly establishes himself as the most talented quarterback in training camp, why should the Bears limit his growth? If the Eagles could change their plan for quarterback Carson Wentz, the No. 2 overall pick in 2016 who started 16 games as a rookie after entering training camp No. 3 on the depth chart, why can't the Bears leave open the possibility of changing theirs for Trubisky?

Football coaches like John Fox love to preach about competition. Those words will fall on deaf ears in the Bears locker room, and players risk tuning Fox out, unless he is willing to back them up. Players always are the first to know, so if Trubisky outplays veteran placeholder Mike Glennon in Bourbonnais — not exactly a stretch — then the Bears might have to rethink what is best for everyone.

Everybody references Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains' experience developing a rookie first-round quarterback with the Titans. What those citing that example leave out is that Loggains' quarterback project was Jake Locker, who didn't start as a rookie in 2011 and was out of the league three seasons later. That's a line any quarterback tutor should want erased from his resume.

The NFL doesn't have a minor-league system like baseball where top prospects can learn. Full stadiums every Sunday provide the only classroom besides the practice field, where the tests are easier. In a perfect world, sure, Trubisky would arrive with less fanfare and fewer expectations developing behind an established starter on a playoff-caliber team. But, in reality, the Bears' world has been imperfect for the past decade, so the kid from Mentor, Ohio, faces more pressure to limit his time as a protege.

Such is life as a high draft pick in the NFL's third-largest market on a struggling team lacking stars. Coming off their worst 16-game season ever, the Bears' cupboard of impact players still looks barren after an unorthodox offseason. The 16 free agents the Bears signed offered more quantity than quality. The four picks after Trubisky made 2017 the GPS draft.

Fair or not, those circumstances shift even more focus on Trubisky, whose every move was magnified during his first NFL working weekend in a sports city needing something to do this month between Cubs games.

Wearing No. 10 on Day 1, Trubisky threw spirals with zip and commanded huddles with zeal, oozing with the natural leadership that appealed to Pace. Fox, the king of the buzzkill, sounded in midseason form when asked whether he saw something special in Trubisky.

"I don't know if we're ready after one practice to define his career," Fox cracked.

Defining the course of Trubisky's first season will be tricky enough.

The Bears insist Glennon is the starter. They have sounded just like the Eagles following the 2016 NFL draft. The Eagles also moved up to draft a quarterback No. 2 (Wentz), upset the incumbent starter (Sam Bradford) by doing so and signed a veteran backup for insurance (Chase Daniel).

On May 2 of last year, a Philadelphia tabloid headline screamed: "If Carson Wentz starts in 2016, the Eagles are in trouble."

Plans called for Wentz to sit. Those plans changed when Wentz demonstrated uncommon command at training camp and the Vikings lost quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to injury. Had Wentz not progressed so quickly and unexpectedly in preseason, perhaps the Eagles wouldn't have acted so aggressively in trading Bradford to the Vikings. But they did.

Wentz and the Eagles benefited from the bold move as the rookie threw for 3,782 yards, 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions with a 79.3 passer rating in a 7-9 season. That doesn't mean Trubisky would enjoy similar success if thrust into a starting role; it merely points out that the notion isn't as crazy as some have suggested.

Consider that Wentz started 23 games at FCS powerhouse North Dakota State and Trubisky started 13 at North Carolina. But Trubisky threw only 40 fewer college passes than Wentz — 572 to 612.

Trubisky's lack of experience means nothing now, not if he makes a quick transition to running a pro-style offense instead of a spread. Not if his ability matches his ambition.

"I'm going to come out here and compete," Trubisky said. "We know Mike's the starter but competition brings out the best in everyone."

Everyone on the Bears will be better with a true quarterback competition that allows Trubisky a chance to put himself in the driver's seat, where he is most comfortable.

dhaugh@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

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