Tom Sorensen

Tom Talks: Bears picking Mitchell Trubisky over Deshaun Watson? Still don’t get it

Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson was impressive in the Texans' season-opening loss against the New Orleans Saints.
Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson was impressive in the Texans' season-opening loss against the New Orleans Saints. AP

The Chicago Bears took North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky with the second pick in the 2017 draft. The Bears didn’t draft him with their second pick. They drafted him with the second pick.

The San Francisco 49ers were scheduled to draft second and the Bears third. But the Bears traded the third, 67th and 111th pick in the draft, plus a third-round pick in 2018, to the 49ers so they could move up and take Trubisky.

Among the players on which the Bears passed: Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, who went to the Carolina Panthers with the eighth pick; Texas Tech’s Pat Mahomes, who went to the Kansas City Chiefs 10th; and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, who was still available when the Houston Texans drafted 12th.

At the time, many of us thought and said (and I wrote) that after watching the quarterbacks in the ACC, I couldn’t fathom why the Bears considered Trubisky a better quarterback than Watson.

Two years and five months later, I still can’t.

Against the Green Bay Packers last Thursday, in the opening game of this, the NFL’s 100th season, Trubisky spent the evening showing what he can’t do. Against the New Orleans Saints on Monday, Watson spent the evening showing what he can.

Watson is breathtaking, and at 23, he’s one of the best young quarterbacks in football. At 40, Drew Brees is one of the best old quarterbacks. They went at it all Monday night long, going deep and going short, Watson running, all clutch plays and confidence.

And Watson has played behind an offensive line so porous that when team captains meet before the game, the Texans hand invitations to the defense.

“You are invited to the Houston backfield. Dress is casual. Bring a dish if you like.”

Watson was sacked 62 times last season, which is more than anybody else.

On Aug. 31 the Texans acquired Laremy Tunsil from the Miami Dolphins. He’s one of the NFL’s best offensive tackles, and made his Houston debut Monday. Watson was still sacked six times and hit 11. But Tunsil will make a difference. The line won’t be good, but it will be much less worse.

When Watson wasn’t getting pounded Monday, he was completing 20 of 30 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. His quarterback rating was 114.3.

Watson’s rating last season put him in eighth place. (Trubisky was 16th.) Protect Watson, upgrade the line to average, and watch what happens.

I’ve spent time with NFL general managers and coaches and scouts, and respect their knowledge and their effort. I can envision some at 3:15 a.m., looking at video of a college quarterback a final time, ice cubes clinking in a nearby glass.

But, man, I don’t get it.

Newton’s timid performance

If I were giving Cam Newton a grade for his performance against the Los Angeles Rams Sunday, I’d give him a T -- for timid.

Most games Newton is the antithesis of timid. He is loud, he is brash, he is big, and he is strong. He’s going to have a good time and doesn’t care who knows it. I once asked Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera which of his players got most excited before a game. I thought he might say Thomas Davis. Without pausing, Rivera named Newton.

Playing from behind Sunday, Newton threw 38 passes and completed 25 for 239 yards, no touchdowns and an interception.

I kept waiting for him to take off. But it was as if he was in a rope-a-dope, the defense Muhammad Ali invented against George Foreman. Unlike Ali, Newton didn’t fight back.

Where were the deep passes? I saw plenty, but they were in other stadiums. Where were the called runs or, more importantly, the impromptu scrambles? At his best, Newton is running, moving and flinging the ball.

At 30, and with so many hits on those legs, torso, arms and shoulders it was as if he collected them, Newton is not going to move the way he once did. But he can still move. He didn’t move. He ran three times for a minus-2 yards.

He’s better when he runs at least a little, and when he forces the defense to adjust when he goes deep.

Early last season Newton played smart structured football, getting rid of the ball quickly, throwing short precise passes and moving down the field in little steps.

But against the Rams, there was little precision. He didn’t complete long passes and almost never threw them. He threw high, and he overthrew.

You can attribute his performance to rust. We last saw Newton on Dec. 17 at Bank of America Stadium against New Orleans.

But by the second half, the rust ought to be gone. Newton is familiar with the position; he’s been Carolina’s quarterback since 2011.

Newton’s defenders will blame somebody else for the loss. They always do. Newton’s detractors will blame Newton for the loss. They always do.

The truth is that Newton played poorly and the Panthers were mediocre. They were underdogs at home against a good team, and they lost.

To contend for the playoffs, there will be games in which Newton has to be the best quarterback on the field. I’m not saying he won’t be. I’m saying that, at least in week one, we didn’t see it.

This week’s NFL picks

Ah, my favorite part of the column, at least when I have a decent week. Every week, I pick the winner of every NFL game.

Last Week: 12-3-1

Season: 12-3-1

Lock of the Week: San Francisco (line was even) over TB

San Francisco won by 14

Season: 1-0

Week 2, with the home team in CAPS:

THURSDAY

CAROLINA 7 over Tampa Bay

SUNDAY

BALTIMORE 17 over Arizona

Dallas 6 over WASHINGTON

TENNESSEE 3 over Indianapolis

PITTSBURGH 4 over Seattle

NEW YORK GIANTS 2 over Buffalo

San Francisco 4 over CINCINNATI

San Diego 6 over DETROIT

Minnesota 3 over GREEN BAY

TEXAS 8 over Jacksonville

New England 41 over MIAMI

Kansas City 7 over OAKLAND

LOS ANGELES RAMS 1 over New Orleans

Chicago 3 over DENVER

Philadelphia 2 over ATLANTA

MONDAY

LOCK OF THE WEEK: Cleveland (-3) 7 over NEW YORK JETS

California forcing NCAA’s hand on paying players

If the NCAA refuses to pay athletes, California might try to might force them to. Under the Fair Pay to Play Act, college athletes will be compensated for the use of their name, image and likenesses.

If the act becomes law, the NCAA says it might just have to exclude California schools from the competition it sponsors. The NCAA is petty, but can it be this petty? Sure.

If the NCAA went as far as to ignore UCLA, Southern California, Stanford and California, the outcry would undermine the organization. As it stands now, the NCAA undermines itself.

I’ve written this before, but it’s no less true. The NCAA should compensate athletes in the sports that generate revenue, or at least the sports that have the opportunity to. Those sports are football and men’s basketball.

ay the players. Schools will still cheat; some will offer time and a half. But that’s another issue.

The NCAA’s system is outmoded and unfair. Coaches sign huge contracts, and I don’t begrudge them the money. What I do begrudge is that coaches and schools make millions off athletes, and athletes get none of it.

An education is wonderful, and athletes receive that. It’s not enough. It’s not nearly enough.

If the NCAA were fair, California would not have to force the organization’s hand.

California has to force the organization’s hand.

Short takes: Tennessee’s underwhelming Vols

When was the last time Tennessee fans were so underwhelmed, frustrated and angry with their football team?

Imagine how much worse they’d they feel if Tennessee wasn’t a basketball school.

Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt, 45, was a defensive coordinator at Florida State, Georgia and Alabama. He was a great coordinator, and it looked as if Tennessee made a fine hire.

Last season, the Volunteers went 5-7, respectable enough for the first-year, first-time head coach. But they opened this season with losses to Georgia State (38-30) and. Brigham Young (29-26 in triple overtime).

The Volunteers played as if they was surprised Georgia State and Brigham Young had college football teams. On Saturday, Tennessee plays Chattanooga. Bad news for the Volunteers: Like the first two games, this one will be in Knoxville...

Michael Jordan, owner of the Charlotte Hornets, pledged $1 million to the Bahamas, which were severely damaged by Hurricane Dorian. Jordan always had a nice touch…

I know numerous NBA stars sat out the 2019 FIBA World Cup (although Kemba Walker of the Boston Celtics played). But it was still a shock to see the U.S. lose in the quarterfinals 89-79 to France. The U.S. had won 58 straight games against in FIBA and Olympic competition.

Those NBA stars had every right not to participate. The NBA season begins in mid-October and runs through June. The U.S. did qualify for the 2020 Olympics. They’ll be at full strength for that one…

I enjoyed listening to Booger McFarland on Monday Night Football. He spent last season in what looked like a floating penalty box. He’s better on the ground, or at least in the press box. He’s funny, and he has something to say.

In other news, I like Jason Witten better in a Dallas Cowboys’ uniform than in the press box. Witten, 37, caught three passes for 15 yards and a touchdown in Dallas’ opener. Broadcasting isn’t easy. Some former athletes have a gift for it, some don’t. Witten doesn’t.

I heard a lot of fans say that the Carolina Panthers should have beaten the Los Angeles Rams. Why?

Tom Sorensen is a retired Observer columnist.
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