We wrote just before Christmas that former Tar Heel tight end Eric Ebron, now with the Indianapolis Colts, will be in Orlando for his first career Pro Bowl. Now, thanks to Jared Goff’s inability to go to the event due to the Super Bowl, Ebron won’t be the only Tar Heel at the event. Fellow first-timer Mitchell Trubisky has been invited to the Pro Bowl as the NFC’s first alternate after breaking out with the Chicago Bears in his second year.
Expectations were high for Trubisky when he was taken second overall amidst questions about his limited tape and pro-readiness, and being saddled with a coach, John Fox, who actively did not care about developing him for the NFL, did not help alleviate these concerns in the slightest. Trubisky’s first year was inconsistent on his end as he learned how to play from under center and adjust to the speed of the NFL, but he was hampered by an aggressively run-first, run-second philosophy (Remember the Panthers game they won throwing just 7 passes?), a lack of receiving talent, and an unfriendly scheme. After taking over a quarter of the way through the season, Trubisky completed 196/330 of his passes (59.6%) for 2193 yards with 7 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Fox was, predictably, fired at the end of the season, and questions abounded about Trubisky after fellow first-round quarterbacks had either already announced their arrivals (Deshaun Watson) or, in a game or two of action, flashed talent the league had hardly ever seen before (Patrick Mahomes).
Despite his mediocre rookie season, though, the Bears front office felt that he had shown enough leadership, skill, and promise for them to feel good about their trade up to get him, as he was apparently very involved in the interview process for the Bears’ next coach. They ended up picking former Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy. The Bears brass also went all in on free agency, bringing in lots of big names such as Allen Robinson, Khalil Mack, Taylor Gabriel, and Trey Burton. They were giving their new franchise quarterback everything he needed to succeed. It was going to take some time for him to adjust to having a coach who knew what he was doing, and then some time for him to learn what he should have been learning his rookie year, but he was in a much better position with coaching and supporting cast than he had been a year prior.
And after a shaky start, succeed he did. In his first three games, Trubisky was completing more of his passes, but still couldn’t find the end zone and was making more mental mistakes than he had prior, with two touchdowns and three picks. The team’s 2-1 record seemed to have come despite him, not due to him. He then came to life against Tampa Bay’s league-worst pass defense, putting up a staggering performance in which he completed 19 out of 26 passes for 354 yards and 6 touchdowns, and from then on, the offense was his. At the end of the season, Trubisky, through 14 games, had completed 289/434 passes (66.6%) for 3223 yards, 24 touchdowns, and had been picked off just 12 times, improving statistically in nearly every rate statistic and more or less stagnating in interception percentage. And he wasn’t half bad as a runner, either: Trubisky carried the ball 68 times for 421 yards, averaging over 6 yards per carry, frustrating defenses regularly and scoring three touchdowns to boot. He led the Bears to an 11-5 record (11-3 in games he played) in the regular season and the third seed in the NFC.
While the Bears proceeded to lose a heartbreaker to the Eagles on a last-second missed 43-yard field goal, it was Trubisky who led the Bears down the field in about 30 seconds to get in position for a makeable attempt, displaying the maturity and been-there-before attitude that many doubted he could develop this early, particularly in his first playoff game. This was the year that he announced to the world what Tar Heel fans knew already: that he was ready to be one of the league’s best young quarterbacks. His Pro Bowl nomination is well-deserved and we look forward to a future filled with several more for a quarterback who, in one season starting for UNC, put together arguably the best passing season we have ever seen in Chapel Hill. Congratulations, Mitch!