When discussing Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman, the word "QB whisperer" is often used to describe his prowess with professional passers.
During his 30-plus years as a professional and collegiate coach, Trestman has worked with some of the game's best quarterback: Bernie Kosar, Vinny Testaverde, Steve Young, Rich Gannon and, while in Montreal, Anthony Calvillo, professional football's career leader in passing yards.
At nearly every stop in his career, particularly those in which his role was offensive coordinator or head coach, Trestman has inherited an established signal caller. The same goes for his current position in Chicago, where Jay Cutler is firmly entrenched as the club's franchise QB.
Trestman has shown the ability to develop and get the most out of his veteran passers. He's credited with turning Rich Gannon from a journeyman quarterback into an NFL MVP in 2003 and last year made Josh McCown, who was coaching high school football a few years earlier, into the most sought-after free agent passer on the open market.
Trestman's resume of working with quarterbacks is pretty impressive. Yet for all his stops in the NFL, NCAA and CFL, he's never had the opportunity to handpick a young signal caller and groom him from Day 1.
That all changes this year with Chicago's selection of former San Jose State QB David Fales in the sixth round of this year's draft. Finally, Trestman was able to scout and evaluate a rookie signal caller to his liking, one he can now mold in his system from the very start.
"We've had our eye on David for a while and we definitely need to increase the competition for a backup spot on our roster at that position," GM Phil Emery said after the draft. "We've been working on him for a while. Our scouts certainly liked him. Our coaching staff certainly did. We sent [quarterbacks coach] Matt Cavanaugh out to work him out late last week. Matt came away very impressed.
"When it came time into that spot in the draft, we really felt that it was a good pick for the spot that we were in in the draft and we certainly expect David to come in and compete with Jordan [Palmer] and Jerrod [Johnson] for a position on our roster. And best players win and that's only going to be for the benefit of our team in terms of providing quality completion in that backup role."
Emery said before the draft he doesn't buy into the prevailing wisdom of selecting late-round "developmental quarterbacks" as potential starters down the line.
"We are drafting a player that is going to compete for a roster spot and think it's important to have competition at backup," said Emery. "Obviously, in our situation we have a seven-year contract player (Cutler). This will be the start of that contract. I'm going to love it when he finishes it. In the meantime, those players are going to be backups. So again to restate what I said last week, if you think you're drafting a starter, a developmental starter, from the fourth round down, well then you're going to be the one that rarely hits the big, rare strike."
Emery believes Fales is a backup, yet with Trestman on board, a certain part of him has to believe that Fales will develop into something more.
Throughout his long career, Trestman has taken old cars and rebuilt them until they drove like new. No one is better at reclamation projects. Yet now he has a 2014 chassis and he's been given state-of-the-art parts and equiptment to build his young toy into something shiny and new.
He's not teaching an old dog new tricks; he's teaching a puppy from scratch, which is a huge difference.
"That's the fun part of it," said Trestman. "Having a player like David, who's raw as a young player, comes out of a very good offensive system, has a skill set that we think is relevant to what we've got going on here within our system. As Phil said, to come in and to compete for a role on our roster, we think he's that kind of guy."
Trestman's system is based on a short-passing attack developed under West Coast guru Bill Walsh. Quarterbacks under Trestman must have good anticipation, intelligence and accuracy. Those are three traits in which Fales showed well during his collegiate career and at the Senior Bowl. He doesn't have the strongest arm but he delivers the ball on time and where it needs to be. That could go a long way in Chicago's offense.
"The biggest thing about going to see David was two things: You've got to see a quarterback throw in person. You've got to be able to feel his arm strength, that he has an inventory of passes; that he can make all the throws and Matt [Cavanaugh] was satisfied," said Trestman. "It showed up on tape but it was good to see out there. And then, he had a chance to sit down with him and put him on the board and talk about our system, see his ability to think on his feet and his understanding of coverages and protections. And he came back feeling very good about that.
"And then the tape told us the rest; that he's a guy who's been very accurate, has shown an inventory of passes, shown toughness, shown courage, shown the ability to make quick decisions with a compact throwing motion and we're excited about having him with us."
The situation couldn't be better for Fales. His two biggest challenges for a roster spot this year are Jordan Palmer (15 career pass attempts) and Jerrod Johnson (no career pass attempts). Despite those two being older, neither carries more professional in-game experience.
If Fales is everything the Bears believe him to be and Trestman does what he's always done, there's no reason Fales can't earn a place on the final 53-man roster. At the very least, he should be able sneak onto the team's practice quad where he can further develop under Trestman.
"You've got an example of that just up north of us, right?" Trestman said. "A guy [Aaron Rodgers] who stood behind a great player like Brett Favre and learned the system, had consistency and continuity with the coaching staff, was able to learn the system and then go out and perform at a level that was very good."
Rodgers was a first-round pick, so that comparison isn't necessarily fair to Fales but Trestman's point holds true. Fales will learn the system from Day 1, will be a part of the team and the offense for as long as he's in Chicago, and will be under the tutelage of one of the best QB teachers in the game.
At this point, it's up to Trestman to get the most out of his young signal caller. If he's the QB whisperer many believe him to be, then Fales will develop into a competent backup and potential starter. And if Cutler is setting records under Trestman, then Fales could emerge as quality trade bait.
It's a point worth discussing. Let's assume Fales lights it up as an injury replacement for Cutler and the Bears are able to acquire a high draft pick for him. Then you rinse and repeat. In every other draft from here on out, the team could invest a late-round pick in a QB, then turn that into a better selection down the line. If Trestman is a wizard with young quarterbacks the way he is with those in the twilight of their careers, this could be a viable option for regularly improving the team's draft stock.
So while Fales may just appear to be a sixth-round throwaway, his career could have larger implications. Let the whispering begin.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.