While Fields isn’t ready to take over as the Bears’ starter, there’s a lot to like about where he’s at right now.
Justin Fields hears you. All of you.
He has seen his No. 1 jerseys spring up all over the bleachers at training camp, he understands that everything he says or does lights up Twitter and he’s very aware that this fan base is beyond starved for an electric, franchise-altering quarterback.
But he’s telling you the same thing the Bears are: Just wait.
“I’m constantly growing every day,” the rookie quarterback said Monday, trying to gauge where he stands at the moment relative to being ready to take over as the starter. “A lot of people are anxious to see me play, but greatness doesn’t happen overnight.”
His development requires more patience from a city that’s pretty much tapped out of it after decades of the Bears’ pleading. But Fields is progressing. His advances range from thrilling deep shots and wily scrambles to the finer points of perfecting his huddle calls and cadence at the line of scrimmage.
Those little details are boring, but they matter. Nobody cares about cadence until there’s a false start. Nobody cares about going through the proper progressions on a play until the quarterback misses the open receiver underneath on a key play. The Bears drafted Fields to launch rockets for touchdowns and spin through defenders as though their shoelaces are tied together, but those other things also are vital.
Those aspects, along with mastering split-second decisions under duress and decoding defensive disguises, are the difference between coach Matt Nagy declaring 11-year veteran Andy Dalton being ready to start a game right now and Fields acknowledging that he still has work to do before his likely debut in a preseason game against the Dolphins next week.
“That’s when things get real,” Nagy said. “You start putting the pads on and the tempo picks up, [and] now we want to see him execute plays and play fast. That’s probably the biggest thing.”
Fields did plenty of that at Ohio State, where he was the most dominant quarterback in college football other than Trevor Lawrence. But everything’s harder in the NFL, even in practices against second-string players.
Windows open and close much more quickly, and Fields can no longer count on a wide margin between his talent and that of his opponents. Some gambles that paid off in college would be imprudent at this level. The good thing, though, is that it’s easier to harness an aggressive mindset than to teach a cautious, checkdown-happy quarterback to take some shots.
“Yes, 100%” Nagy affirmed.
The good news for the Bears is that although Fields isn’t ready to supplant Dalton, he is absolutely on the right track. He is at or beyond where the team needs him to be at the moment. He said he’s “very happy” with his progress and has seen the value of being Dalton’s understudy.
He has gone from straining to remember plays when he gets the call to visualizing them immediately. And he has been exceptionally level and poised throughout the inevitable choppiness of a rookie quarterback’s first week of training camp.
“I don’t really get upset if I miss a throw because I know I can make that throw,” he said. “So right now I’m more focused on the mental part of the game. With the ups and downs, you can’t really dwell on those. With [mistakes], you just have to learn from them and move on.”
The next month or so is the ideal time for him to work through that turbulence on the field before the Bears shift into regular-season mode and Fields is relegated to mostly learning through observation.
Until then, every peek at his progress is priceless. While the Bears hope Dalton can help them make the playoffs this season, they believe Fields can vault them to championship contention for years. He doesn’t have to live up to that yet, but it’s reassuring to see evidence that he’s headed there.