Fox defends playing Mitchell Trubisky late in game

The Chicago Bears kept Mitchell Trubisky in first-gear early in the preseason finale Thursday night -- a 25-0 shellacking at the hands of the Cleveland Browns at Soldier Field.

The exciting rookie handed off on his first nine snaps of the game, three three-and-outs. Not until the second quarter was Trubisky allowed to throw the ball. In four drives, the No. 2 overall pick went 2-of-4 passing for 10 yards.

After the game coach John Fox cited Trubisky earning experience preparing to run an offense as the reason the rookie played but was kept on a leash.

"It's just experience," Fox said, via CSN Chicago. "He doesn't have a lot of experience. Like any young player, the more they're out there, that experience is very valuable."

It seems incongruous to put the future franchise quarterback on the field and not let him actually do what you drafted him to do: pass the ball. But for a player with only 13 college starts, giving him live reps of hearing the play call, getting in and out of the huddle can be valuable.

If getting Trubisky reps without putting him at risk is the goal, fine. There is an argument for employing that plan in the final preseason game -- even if the rookie could use actual reps playing actual quarterback.

Fox playing it uber-cautious with his first-round pick is why the end of the game was extremely odd. After reserve quarterback Connor Shaw exited twice with injury, Trubisky re-entered the game (both Mike Glennon and Mark Sanchez were dressed to play). During the first Shaw exit, the rookie simply handed off. That was predictable and in line with the game plan for the rookie.

Then Shaw exited again with a hamstring injury. With the Bears in the red zone, Fox decided this was the moment to take the restrictor plate off his shiny new toy. At the end of the fourth preseason game, losing 25-0, behind offensive lineman that won't make it through the weekend on the roster, facing defenders scraping to keep jobs, the Bears called for Trubisky to drop back to pass three times.

The first was a screen pass in which the rookie got shoved as he released the ball. Not ideal, but OK. A Cleveland penalty gave the Bears a first down. Two runs later it looked like the Bears would run the clock out and head to the showers. Inexplicably, Fox called time out with 11 seconds left, leaving time for two more Trubisky pass plays. The first was incomplete. The last play of the meaningless game the No. 2 overall pick was surrounded and dragged down for a sack.

Luckily for Fox Trubisky didn't get hurt on the play call.

"Anytime you go out there, it's a risk, truth be told," Fox said, defending the play-call decisions, via ESPN. "Football is a rough game, no doubt. You don't want to see people get hurt, but it is part of the game. I don't know if we exposed Mitch a whole lot, but I can also say anytime you trot between those lines you are exposed."

An annoyed Fox rejected the suggestion he could have managed the situation better.

"I think it's fair to say it wasn't the first time he's been hit and it won't be the last," Fox said.

The issue Bears reporters and fans had with Fox Thursday night is that he clearly had a plan, then rejected that strategy at the end of a meaningless blowout. The cognitive dissonance Fox seems to embrace is disconcerting to those outside the building.

Trubisky exited unscathed, so Fox won't be under the heat that would have come if he had, for example, sprained an ankle (or worse) on that final sack. The rookie just seemed happy to be out on the field.

"If I was in there I wanted to score," Trubisky said. "I never worry about injury. When you go out there, you're playing football. And when you start worrying about those things, that's more when they happen, playing timid or keeping it in the back of your mind. But no, I'll do whatever this team asks me to do."

It's not the rookie's job to worry about injury. It's the coach's. For most of Thursday night, Fox seemed overly occupied with keeping Trubisky healthy. Until he didn't.

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