Justin Fields shows no hesitation.
Not that he did a year ago, but a year ago he was a rookie buried under Andy Dalton on the depth chart. He was still learning how to be a professional quarterback — from learning to attack, to learning the language of an NFL playbook, to adapting to a faster game.
So much has changed for the Bears over the past year. Fields’ approach to the game, however, has not. His command and control in directing the Bears offense has only improved. His teammates notice it.
“When he comes in to state the play or give us what we need to know to go out and run the play, it’s a lot more fluid,” veteran left guard Cody Whitehair said. “He says it with more confidence.”
This time of year is all about perfecting the process and perfecting the little details. This will provide an overview during training camp and during the season. For the 23-year-old quarterback, much of his offseason has been spent perfecting his pace in the huddle, improving his footwork and shortening his throwing motion.
He begins each practice by working on his footwork with quarterback coach Andrew Janocko.
The goal is for this footwork to become automatic. The best quarterbacks can feel where the pressure is coming from, see it with their peripheral vision, and then let their footwork respond.
“If you can get the ball out in time and you can listen to what your feet are telling you, it helps you progress, helps you get through the reads, helps you feel a defense and tells you when you’re behind. and that you have to move on,” Janocko said.
As a rookie, Fields allowed 36 sacks — the 10th most in the NFL — in just 12 games. He was quick to bail out the pocket when things went wrong. Scrambling will always be part of his game, and with his elite speed he should be, but perfecting his footwork will give him a better idea of the pocket.
Bears head coach Matt Eberflus said Wednesday after an OTA workout that he was already noticing improvements in Fields’ footwork and timing.
“You can see it in the drilling work,” Eberflus said. “You can see them going from exercise work to 11-on-11 reps and it’s definitely improving.”
Janocko said Fields is such a natural athlete that coaches don’t often have to show him how to do something more than once. Fields picks things up pretty quickly.
The Bears also had quarterbacks work on ball safety drills with running backs and receivers this spring. Fields fumbled the ball 12 times last year. It’s a number he needs to improve on.
Generally speaking, the dorky former 11th overall pick is more confident and takes it upon himself to take initiative. He’s top of the line for pre-workout stretching. He sprints across the field to move from exercise to exercise. His teammates notice little things like that.
“He’s a leader in the field, a legitimate field general,” veteran defensive tackle Justin Jones said. “He pisses guys off, gets guys moving, stuff like that.”
Being a defensive lineman, Jones doesn’t interact much with Fields on the practice field. But even in just a few weeks of practicing with Fields, Jones can see his quarterback’s drive and leadership abilities.
Fields said earlier this spring that he feels empowered. And he should. General manager Ryan Poles asked his opinion on rookie receivers during the draft process. The team brought in two additional quarterbacks who are clearly there to support Fields in backup roles, not supplant his playing time.
This offense is Fields’ vessel to guide. All eyes are on him.
“He’s been great in terms of vocalizing everyone and showing what he wants from everyone,” tight end Cole Kmet said. “It was fun to be a part of and fun to watch and (it’s) exciting to continue building on that leading into training camp.”