The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday October 28th

Film review: Can Mitch Trubisky be a successful NFL quarterback?

This is our ninth installment of Film Review, our weekly series where we break down a particular aspect of the weekend's action to help you better understand what's happening on the field. Here's where to find our previous pieces.

Another Saturday, another standout performance for North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky

The redshirt junior passed for 329 yards against Georgia Tech, tossed one touchdown and ran for another. People around the nation are starting to take notice of the first-time starter, and Trubisky’s name has shot to the top of draft boards. The league is always on the lookout for the next great young signal-caller who can lead a team to greatness. 

Can Trubisky be that guy for a pro team come next year? A rudimentary scouting report might look something like this:

Positives

  • Looks the part; prototypical size, build and arm strength
  • Shows excellent accuracy and touch, particularly on throws in the intermediate portion of the field
  • Good leadership and command of the offense
  • Good athleticism; can scramble out of trouble and hurt opponents with his legs

Negatives

  • Lack of experience
  • Extremely talented supporting cast and offensive system inflate his stats
  • Inconsistent mechanics and footwork
  • Poor deep ball accuracy

NFL scouts are obsessed with appearances, and Trubisky certainly looks like a professional quarterback. He has prototypical size at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, along with a strong arm and a willingness to play from the pocket. 

His passing stats are phenomenal, with more than 2,700 yards and 19 touchdown passes through nine games and an eye-popping 70 percent completion percentage. His only two interceptions this season came in a 34-3 loss to Virginia Tech that was played during Hurricane Matthew.

But stats don’t always translate to the next level. How a player accumulates stats often says more about the player than the raw stats themselves. Trubisky has a wealth of talent on offense that makes his job easier. Even with injuries, he has one of the better offensive lines in the ACC, a stacked receiving corps led by Ryan Switzer and a devastating one-two punch at running back with Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan.

North Carolina’s style of offense is also predicated on getting those playmakers the ball with space to work with, so Trubisky throws a lot of screens and passes to wide open receivers. 

Trubisky is often asked to make quick decisions with UNC’s option plays, but those reads are simpler than the types of reads he’ll be asked to make on Sundays. He also operates almost exclusively from the shotgun, which won’t be the case in the NFL.

But there’s some substance to the Trubisky hype beyond the flash.


Take this play from UNC’s 37-36 comeback win against Pittsburgh, where Trubisky threw five touchdowns and started to grab the national spotlight.

Trubisky will fake the handoff to Logan, who will then run a wheel route to the left. The other receivers to Trubisky’s right run vertical routes attacking the coverage, which appears to be Cover 2 with man coverage underneath, although it’s tough to tell from the broadcast angle.

Logan’s route leaves him matched up against a linebacker — a matchup the speedy senior will win more often than not.

As the play develops, the defensive end beats the left tackle and bears down on Trubisky from his blind side. But the quarterback senses the pressure and moves up in the pocket to the left to escape.

It’s a subtle movement, but it’s this type of athleticism and pocket movement that is the difference between a sack and a big play. Trubisky’s not a traditional dual-threat quarterback, but he’s athletic enough to make a lot of plays.

Trubisky shows off his arm talent next, slinging a ball deep down the field while off-balance to Logan’s back shoulder, displaying great arm strength and ball placement. Logan drops the pass and commits offensive pass interference, but Trubisky did his job by putting Logan in position to make a big play.

That arm talent is what NFL teams tend to fall in love with.


Trubisky showcases it again on a 3rd-and-18 later in the same game.

Teams will often call a screen or draw play here rather than attack the defense. The longer a quarterback has to wait in the quarterback or throw the ball, the more time the defense has to make a play.

But with Trubisky, Coach Larry Fedora doesn’t have to be afraid to push the ball downfield.

Note where Trubisky throws this ball.

Now note where the receiver catches it — 30 yards downfield and on the far hash. Trubisky rifles this pass into a closing window between the safety and corner, but it still has enough zip to arrive in time for the receiver to pick up additional yards after the catch. There aren't many NFL quarterbacks who will even attempt this throw.


But easier throws sometimes give Trubisky problems because of his mechanics. In the first half of UNC’s signature win against Florida State, Trubisky missed Switzer for a touchdown.

It’s a bootleg with Trubisky rolling to his right. Switzer will drag across the formation after losing his defender, thanks to some great route-running which he’s become known for.

Trubisky sees Switzer and plants his feet to throw back across his body.

But instead of stepping into and striding through the throw, Trubisky jumps and leans backward. It’s a common mechanical failure for strong-armed quarterbacks.

Instead of stepping into their throw and relying on lower body mechanics to power the ball, they use just their arm. That gives them less control over the ball — and their accuracy suffers.

Instead of placing the ball out in front of Switzer and away from the defender, the ball goes low and behind Trubisky’s intended target. The defender crushes Switzer and breaks up the pass — and instead of adding a touchdown to the board, the Tar Heels lose a scoring opportunity shortly after when Elijah Hood fumbles the ball.


When Trubisky’s mechanics are smooth, he can be downright surgical with some of this throws.

Here, his feet are well-balanced and he steps into the throw. The weight change and torque from his swiveling hips give him more control over the speed and direction of the pass.

That enables him to sneak this ball in to his intended target only inches away from a defender.

It’s the same when Trubisky attempts to throw a deep pass.

He steps into the throw here, even as a defender bears in. One trait NFL scouts look for is a willingness to hang in the pocket and deliver the ball with sound mechanics, even if it means getting hit hard.

His mechanics are good and the throw is good. Austin Proehl is not a big target, but Trubisky drops this pass over a defender as he likely has so many times with a trash can in his backyard.


But more often than not when he’s throwing deep, Trubisky will fall away from the ball as he throws it. He had this problem in the season opener against Georgia, repeatedly putting too much air underneath the ball on deep throws. And that issue continued against Miami.

A defender has worked free in this play, but Trubisky already had ample time. His feet get restless and he leans away as he chucks the ball deep to the left. That causes the ball to flutter and lose momentum as it travels.

Wide receiver Mack Hollins has torched his defender and has nothing but grass between him and the end zone. Yet even here, it’s apparent he’s had to slow down to wait for the ball.

When the pass arrives, it arrives to Hollins outside shoulder, forcing him to make a leaping adjustment. He’s a great playmaker and bails Trubisky out, but he does so at the cost of a broken collarbone that ended his UNC career. Had the pass been inside and in front of Hollins, he could have run underneath it and coasted into the end zone and suited up for UNC’s next two games.

Despite a few warts, though, Trubisky has an excellent skill set that will have NFL talent evaluators drooling. And if he continues his strong play, he’ll have a tough decision to make at the end of the season.

@loganulrich

@bauman_john

sports@dailytarheel.com

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