World News

Next phase of Bears training camp will be telling for QB Justin Fields


Within Halas Hall and outside of it, there’s a rush for the Bears to figure out what they have in quarterback Justin Fields. Is he a franchise quarterback who can launch the organization out of perpetual mediocrity, or is he merely another name on the long list of non-answers they’ve had over the last few decades?

The frustrating part is that this isn’t the time to determine that. Not even close.

The Bears won’t truly know where Fields is heading until the games begin in September, but the first week of training camp was too early to make even an initial assessment when no one was in pads and he was free to shuffle casually in the pocket waiting for a wide receiver to get open.

Mitch Trubisky and nearly every other quarterback has looked good in those scenarios, so while Fields striking deep down the sideline to DJ Moore and threading red-zone passes to Cole Kmet are signs of promise, they aren’t proof.

And they don’t have to be. It’s fun to blast out extraordinary predictions, but the only real conclusion about Fields’ first week of training camp is simply that he stayed on track. That’s it. Maybe it’s a little boring, but it matters to the Bears that he’s right where he should be at this stage.

When asked what he had hoped to see out of Fields, coach Matt Eberflus said, “Just the rhythm and timing of the passing game, having him get connections with the guys.”

The start of training camp isn’t meant to be a wakeup call anymore. It’s much more of an acclimation period. That’s especially important for Fields, who has new targets in Moore and tight end Robert Tonyan and hasn’t played much with Chase Claypool since the Bears traded for him last season.

That all changes next week when the team begins practicing in full pads and shifts its schedule to what Eberflus called “three-day stacks.” The Bears will have another intermediate practice Monday, up the intensity Tuesday and go full-contact in pads Wednesday.

It’s the first big opportunity for Fields to show how much progress he has made since last season. In his second season working under offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, he should be an expert on the offensive scheme — no more learning curve.

Equally importantly, everyone wants to see quick decisions under pressure in the pocket. That’s the key to him or any other quarterback making it. The Bears couldn’t put him in that position much the first week, and there were times during red-zone work Saturday when Fields could’ve stopped to reply to a text before getting the ball out.

It was difficult — or cloudy, to borrow general manager Ryan Pace’s word when he took the job — to gauge Fields’ ability to make sharp decisions in the face of pass rushers his first two seasons because of shaky personnel around him.

Exactly what quick decision did everyone want him to make when he instantly had defenders in his face and none of his receivers were able to gain separation?

Fields often opted to run, and that was prudent at times but unsustainable. He set a franchise record for quarterbacks by rushing for 1,143 yards, but had the fewest passing yards per game (149.7) and finished 31st in completion percentage (60.4) and 25th in passer rating (85.2).

His tremendous speed and elusiveness certainly will be part of his success, but it can’t be the predominant way he advances. The best mobile quarterbacks — Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen and Jalen Hurts — are excellent passers. Collectively, those three produced 18.3% of their total yardage by running. Fields was at 33.8%.

The Bears need to determine whether that was by necessity or because of Fields’ limitations as a passer, and Poles believes there is suitable personnel in place this season to get an answer.

The rebuilt offensive line should mean Fields won’t have to constantly scramble for safety. Upgrades at receiver should mean the end of him futilely scanning downfield only to see no one open.

When everything around him is good enough, what will we see? There was no way to discern that in the first week, but the first glimpse of an answer is coming soon.


Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button