That’s a huge ask for the Bears, but here goes: Any chance Justin Fields can start all 17 games this season?
The Bears’ 2022 rebuilding season is all about low expectations, and the potential franchise quarterback who goes an entire season without injury or being benched is actually setting the bar pretty low.
Over the past 10 years, more than half of NFL starting quarterbacks have started every game every season (16.8 — including starters absent the last week of the regular season before the playoffs).
Obviously, Fields needs to show some development in attacking Luke Getsy, but first. The Bears haven’t had a quarterback in every game a season since Jay Cutler in 2009.
Cutler was actually a durable quarterback whose toughness was a strength. He played 15 of 16 games four times with the Bears. But even some of those single-game absences were symptoms of bigger problems — like getting fired nine times and having a concussion in the first half against the Giants in 2010; or being benched by Marc Trestman in Week 15 as the Halas Hall dysfunction was exposed in 2014.
With the Bears there’s always something going on, which is why Fields playing every game would be a good indicator that GM Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus will produce not just success, but success that lasts. longer life than Marc Trestman’s 8-6 start. in 2013 or Matt Nagy’s 12-4 playoff season in 2018.
Starting in Fields, the Bears can give the Poles a better chance by staying relatively healthy. At this point in Ryan Pace’s rookie year, wide receiver Kevin White — his first-round pick (seventh overall) — was already virtually out for the season with a mysterious shin injury.
The Poles retained coach Andre Tucker, but revamped the Bears’ health maintenance staff – hiring a high performance director (Brent Salazar), sports nutrition director (Blair Hitchcock) and a science expert sports (Al Lamb).
This proactive approach could be tested quickly. Eberflus is a strong believer in challenging, physical, high-paced practices that build mental and physical strength. It’s not quite like the knock-and-drag workouts of the Ditka era, but the thinking is the same – if you train hard, you’ll play hard.
It’s an old-school style that has its perks. But as Tom Thibodeau discovered with the Bulls a decade ago, while that mental toughness can take a team to another level, there’s also a price to pay. This is what makes the work of the Poles even more difficult than it seems. Having hired all the trainers, strength and conditioning coaches, nutritionists, physiotherapists and sports scientists, you still have to keep your fingers crossed.
2. And that goes double for the offensive line. The Bears line has been in flux since Eberflus was hired, and it’s still unclear whether Lucas Patrick will play center or guard against the 49ers on Sunday at Soldier Field.
After all the shuffling during the offseason and training camp, continuity is vital for the offensive line. The last time the Bears started the same lineman at five for all 16 games was in 2013. It’s no coincidence that the Bears finished second in the NFL in scoring this season.
Since then, the Bears’ longest starting streak with the same five linemen is seven games — in 2018, when they finished 12th in offensive points scored. They’ve changed offensive lines 50 times in the last eight seasons, which isn’t good.
3. The Poles’ 53-man roster for Week 1 will include just 19 of the 77 players he inherited from Pace — a big cleanup, especially for a team that has technically made the playoffs two of the previous four seasons. The other new GMs aren’t even close — the Giants (Joe Schoen) have 25 leftovers, the Raiders (Dave Ziegler) have 27 and the Vikings (Kwesi Adofo-Mensah) have 31.
4. When Pace was hired in 2015, his roster of 53 men for Week 1 included 31 players inherited from Phil Emery. This was considered housekeeping at the time, but Poles is already ahead of Pace in this regard.
In 2015, under John Fox, the Bears’ best offensive players were quarterback Jay Cutler, running back Matt Forte, receiver Alshon Jeffery and tight end Martellus Bennett. All would have left at the start of the 2017 season.
The Poles already have building blocks in those places – Fields, running back David Montgomery, wide receiver Darnell Mooney and tight end Cole Kmet. All but Montgomery are certain to be in the long haul if they produce in Getsy’s attack.
5. Let the McCaskeys celebrate Ted Phillips accomplishments as Bears fans celebrate his retirement is a perfect snapshot of the Bears organization in the McCaskey era.
Phillips was the ultimate loyal soldier who got things done off the field – like rebuilding Soldier Field in 2002-03. But George Halas’ legacy is about football, not franchise valuation, and the Bears’ record in Phillips’ 23 seasons as team president is unflattering — six playoff appearances (tied for 22nd in the NFL during that span), three playoff wins (tied for 25th), and seven winning seasons (tied for 23rd).
Phillips pointed to the Jerry Angelo era as his greatest success and it was indeed – playoff appearances in 2001, 2005, 2006 and 2010. But this relatively modest high point is yet another example of the low bar at Halas Hall in the McCaskey era. Put it this way: The Bears’ best six-year streak in the post-Ditka era (three playoff appearances) is the Packers’ worst six-year streak in the same span.
6. That said, there is optimism that Poles can succeed where previous GMs failed – and timing could play a big part in that. When Pace was hired in 2015, Aaron Rodgers was 31. He is now 38.
Don’t overlook this as a factor. Most of the Bears’ successes over the past 60 years have coincided with a Packers downturn – from the 1963 championship when Paul Hornung was suspended for play, to the post-Lombardi funk that lasted through the mid-1980s to the worst seasons by Brett Favre in 2005 and 2006. Timing is everything.
7. Fun fact: Braxton Jones, a fifth-round draft pick, will be the first rookie to start at offensive tackle since Troy Auzenne, a second-round pick in 1992. Auzenne started all 16 games as a rookie, but was injured in 1993 and quickly faded. Jones has risen to every challenge so far. If he answers the next one, the Bears could be in business.
8. This is unlikely to be part of the Bears reveal concept plans for the Arlington Heights site Thursday at Hersey High School, but the ambitious project is a great opportunity to give Chicago something it’s been missing — a Chicago Sports Hall of Fame Museum.
There is actually a Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame, but not many people know about it and it literally doesn’t even have a home – it’s currently virtual, which is shameful in a major sports city.
Chicago deserves a world-class museum celebrating the city’s sports history. And George McCaskey, Chicago’s biggest sports fan among the city’s professional team owners, is the right person in the right place at the right time to support this project. He’s a Chicagoan. He’s a sports fan. He has a sense of history. It has cachet and connections as an owner. And he’s about to get the land.
9. Josh McCown, Former Bears Player of the Week: Steelers quarterback Mitch Trubisky was named team captain Monday and was named the starter for the season opener against the Bengals, coach Mike Tomlin announced Tuesday. He was immediately installed as a 3-1 favorite to be the first starting quarterback on the bench this season, via SportsBetting.ag. We’ll see.
10. Bearometer: 6-11 —against 49ers (L); at Packers (L); against the Texans (W); to the New York Giants (L); at Vikings (L); against commanders (W); at Patriots (L); to the Cowboys (L); against dolphins (L); against the Lions (W); at Falcons (W); at NY Jets (W); against Packers (L); against Eagles (L); against invoices (L); to Lions (L); against the Vikings (W).