BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- It could've been a frustrating start to training camp for any quarterback, let alone a young one trying to set a tone in front of a new coach, his teammates and the media as Mitchell Trubisky was Friday afternoon.
Rain alternated between a drizzle and a downpour for the better part of two hours, and the Chicago Bears' offense was sloppy to match in the team's first full-squad practice -- dropped passes, a couple interceptions, one slick snap under center that shot through Trubisky's hands and hit him in the chest before he gained control and handed it off.
"There was zero complaining," Bears coach Matt Nagy told me after practice in his makeshift office at Olivet Nazarene University. "The next time that play was called, it was under center again, we were walking toward each other and I was getting ready to tell him" -- flashing a hand signal -- "hey, go to the gun, and before I could say that, (Trubisky) goes, I'm going to the gun. I was like, that's what I'm talking about.
"We're going to have some fun with him. We're going to let him cut it loose. He's going to live and learn a little bit. And that's OK. It's good for him. There's going to be some scars that he gets. But I just want him to be him. Be Mitch. Be the best Mitch you can possibly be. Know we got your back and we support you. Cut it loose, have fun and let's go win some games."
Be You is one of the catchphrases Nagy has delivered to players regularly since replacing John Fox as coach in January, opting for a personality-driven mantra that's far more Pete Carroll (Celebrate The Individual) than Bill Belichick (Do Your Job). Another that will appear on the locker room at Soldier Field is Obsess To Be The Best -- a phrase Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace came up with from a list they'd compiled of powerful words, providing a platform for Nagy to relay to his players examples of how people in all walks of life had achieved greatness. Nagy is careful to say "Ryan and I don't want it to be a slogan-fest either," but one thing he's obsessed with is finding different ways to teach and reach everyone in the building.
To that end, there are noticeably good vibes surrounding a Bears team that is 14-34 since its rebuild began in 2015 under Pace and Fox -- one of three head coaches fired since Chicago last made the playoffs in 2010 under Lovie Smith -- even with top draft pick Roquan Smith absent from the start of camp while the team and his agents haggle over contract language.
"I think like there's a talented young foundation in place that we know we always have to be adding to," Pace told me. "But the good part is some of the most critical pieces, like the quarterback or the head coach, you've got to have those two right, and I feel like we have those two right. I know we have those two right. It's just surrounding those guys with as many assets as we can."
Focusing on smart players with versatility to move around and disguise things in Nagy's offense, the Bears signed free-agent receivers Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Bennie Fowler and tight end Trey Burton to go with running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. They used second-round picks on center James Daniels and another receiver, Anthony Miller, who along with Robinson caught end-zone balls from Trubisky, 23, during three days of early-report practices this week that Pace pointed to as examples of the accuracy that made Trubisky the consensus top quarterback among scouts I spoke to heading into the 2017 NFL Draft. Robinson caught another beauty up the seam from Trubisky in the elements Friday.
"What I see in (Trubisky) is a kid who has an extreme amount of confidence in himself and trust in his coaches," Nagy said. "And that's hard to do as a young kid coming into this, especially as the No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft in a big-time city for a team that's starving for wins. When you put all that together and you see a kid that's ready to just take it all on, you're crazy as any coach (if you don't) say I've got that guy's back and let's go to work."
Nagy acknowledges it's easy (frankly, it's required) to say all that when the team has made such an investment in the most important position. Pace caught all kinds of scrutiny for trading three mid-round picks to the 49ers to move up one spot and ensure he got Trubisky last year, even though that'd be pocket change if Trubisky becomes the QB the Bears think they have. It'll only grow more intense if Deshaun Watson (taken No. 12 overall) picks up where he left off last season before his knee injury in Houston and Nagy's former pupil in Kansas City, Patrick Mahomes (No. 10), and his monster arm make everyone forget about Alex Smith.
It started with hiring Nagy and then offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. Combined with holdover quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone, Trubisky's three most immediate resources on the coaching staff all have playing experience at the position. Signing veteran backup quarterback Chase Daniel served a similar purpose. Upgrades at the skill positions were a necessity for Nagy to follow through on his promise to turn loose Trubisky, who ran an offense last season that one opposing coordinator described to me as "obviously so remedial." Eagles safety Rodney McLeod told me before they played the Bears last November that Trubisky was doing a good job handling the offense, but "it seems they don't want to overload him," referencing easy throws and clear man/zone indicators on each half of the field. If you take Nagy at his word, the Bears will be doing what veteran guard Kyle Long promised last month and taking the training wheels off.
"He's a grown man now," Long said Friday. "He's got some facial hair. He's got some bass in his voice. And he's really taken ownership of this locker room. And it's not something that's forced. It's organic and the guys believe in him and we're lucky to have him."
It's worth remembering the plan was for Trubisky to learn from the bench as a rookie, before Mike Glennon played his way out of the job. In 12 starts, Trubisky's numbers weren't exactly inspiring: seven touchdowns with seven interceptions and a 77.5 passer rating. But in hindsight, Pace said, it's a positive Trubisky has experiences he otherwise wouldn't have -- operating an NFL huddle, handling the schedule, walking onto the field as the starter, etc.
Nagy will be having new experiences all season. He only became a solo coordinator with the Chiefs last year and took over play-calling duties midseason. He just turned 40 in April. He's feeling his way through all this for the first time, whether it's deciding to cancel an OTA practice to take the team to Top Golf (yep) or, one day after talking about needing to "callous" his team, pressing onward after everyone on the field Friday was soaked from head to toe. Pace, 41, talks about getting texts from Nagy at 2:30 a.m. with whatever is on his mind.
"Just sharing that energy together is really cool, really fun," Pace said.
That's what the Bears are riding right now as much as anything: energy. Everyone knows that can get sapped quickly if it doesn't translate to wins. And nobody can do more to make sure it does than the young coach and QB who, at least on Day 1, showed signs they're getting on the same page.