LAS VEGAS — You know that King Football is back when you have a quarterback controversy – or two – or three.
Let’s begin in the Windy City, where anointed starter Mike Glennon opened up his Chicago Bears career with a pick-six – and opened the door for rookie Mitchell Trubisky to come crashing through.
It is too early to say “I told you so,” but Bears general manager Ryan Pace ought to be polishing up his delivery just three months after he astonished Bears fans by trading four draft picks to move up one spot to No. 2 – just so he could choose Trubisky. The rookie from North Carolina rewarded that faith Thursday night with an 18-for-25, 166-yard performance that included a touchdown pass and two other scoring drives against Denver.
Trubisky’s passes were so on target that his receivers barely had to raise their hands as the ball arrived dependably. Two of his incomplete passes were throwaways, and one was a drop by – of all people – Víctor Cruz.
Accuracy may be the most important thing for a quarterback in the NFL, and not enough attention is paid to it. Throw in Trubisky’s remarkable decisiveness, and his two-minute drills looked a lot more developed than they should be for a guy who started only 13 games for the Tar Heels. About the only glaring problem I could see was that he needs to work on his slide at the end of a run. That pirouette just won’t cut it.
Pace and coach John Fox may insist that they will “not change the depth chart” and that Glennon is the Bears’ starter. But you could just imagine the water-cooler conversation Friday morning in Chicago. It was all about Trubisky being under center when the Bears open their season in Week 1 next month against defending NFC champion Atlanta.
It is worth noting that the early money here in Las Vegas poured in on the Falcons – even though that opener will be at Soldier Field. Trubisky’s performance will cause everyone to pause, even before Fox gets around to the inevitability of making him the starter.
On Wednesday night, Deshaun Watson looked just as good but in his own way for the quarterback-starved Houston Texans. He completed 15 of 25 passes for 179 yards and ran for a touchdown against Carolina in the very stadium where he led the Clemson Tigers to two ACC championships.
Watson demonstrated remarkable poise at the line of scrimmage – especially on one series where he faced second-and-long. Instead of trying to bite off all the yardage at once, he calmly got the job done in two plays as if he had been there before. It was how he operated the huddle and how he operated the offense that were so impressive. Even something as subtle as repositioning a running back to pick up the blitz showed that Watson was calmly confident and in charge.
Yes, starter Tom Savage led a touchdown drive before that, but that was only after the Carolina defensive starters had left – and after they had held him to a pair of three-and-outs to start the game. How Watson may do if he changes places with Savage is a good question, but in the brief sample of a preseason opener, he did nothing to show he cannot do the job.
Again, it is early, but Texans GM Rick Smith had to feel pleased with himself. He traded up to No. 12 to choose Watson after unloading two picks – and Brock Osweiler before that – to the Browns.
Speaking of Cleveland, that is where a third quarterback controversy may be brewing. DeShone Kizer stepped out from under Notre Dame’s golden dome and threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Payton with 1:52 left on Thursday. That turned out to be the game-winner as the Browns beat New Orleans 20-14 – and covered the 3-point spread. Yes, Cleveland was actually favored here in Vegas.
Kizer came into the game after Osweiler and Cody Kessler, who combined to go only 11-for-24 for 89 yards. Kizer went 11 of 18 for 184 yards and had a quarterback rating 50 points higher than each of the veterans he followed.
The one thing to watch with quarterbacks is when the entire offense starts to move with a little verve. That means those teammates like being on the field and playing with that quarterback. The Texans, Bears and Browns are all responding to that kind of leadership from Watson, Trubisky and Kizer.
OK, I hear what you are saying. Kizer and Watson and Trubisky did all this against second-unit players. But let’s not forget that these are good athletes who are trying to make a roster, too. And I know these are fake games. But what happens during these games is very real. For example, no injury in the NFL is fake – preseason, regular season or otherwise – and that is why handicappers would be well served keeping an eye on what goes on in these exhibition games. That knowledge of who may not be at 100 percent will be helpful when the regular season rolls around.
We already know that three other teams – Indianapolis, Carolina and Baltimore – are dealing with what may or may not be lingering injuries to their quarterbacks. The Colts’ Andrew Luck is still a huge question mark to be on the field for Week 1 against the Rams, all because of his shoulder operation. Whether it was because of his sore arm and/or his surgically repaired shoulder, Cam Newton did not play Carolina’s preseason opener, and the Panthers have gone out of their way not to say when he may be back. And Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has an aching back – never the sort of problem that can be taken lightly.
While fans in those cities are worried about those clouds on the horizon, the sky must look awfully sunny right about now in Chicago and Houston and Cleveland. Here’s hoping that Trubisky, Watson and Kizer keep producing and stay healthy. Who knows? We may look back on the draft class of 2017 as being truly special – especially for quarterbacks. Who would have thought that three months ago?
Then again, it is just a part of the dawning of a new season that cannot come soon enough. Long live King Football.