For much of the spring, internal praise for Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields circulated through Halas Hall.
Just last week, for example, tight end Cole Kmet said he witnessed a notable step forward from Fields as the team continues to attack its offseason schedule. Kmet saw the way the Bears’ new offense puts Fields in motion more frequently and heard the certainty in the way Fields called plays.
There’s only Something which seems to be taking shape.
“Man, he’s confident,” Kmet said.
New offensive coordinator Luke Getsy was delighted with how Fields digested the new playbook, quickly absorbing new concepts, understanding the general philosophies of the system and applying what he learns inside the building on the pitch. training.
“I was super impressed with him,” Getsy said. “I really have. There’s no one in this building who works harder than him. There’s no one who cares more than him.
“We got off to a great start. He really accepted this challenge.
Meanwhile, center Lucas Patrick, who knows a thing or two about the quarterback’s remarkable play after six seasons with the Green Bay Packers, said he came to Chicago with high expectations for Fields. After all, the kid was selected 11th overall just over 13 months ago.
Patrick saw no reason to lower the bar.
“You don’t get drafted as high as him in the National Football League just by having a wet noodle (for an arm) or slow feet,” Patrick said. “He is really talented. I thought he was going to be really good. And it exceeds my expectations.
Patrick, too, is bullish on the young quarterback and was impressed with Fields’ fastball.
“It’s like it just keeps going faster through the air,” he said.
And new coach Matt Eberflus? Well, he was pleased with the bond Fields forms with Getsy and the time Fields invests in kicking his game up a notch. Eberflus also feels the stress Fields can put on opposing defenses with his legs and arm.
After nine practices in April and May, Eberflus can also say he saw Fields’ big-play potential firsthand.
“Man, he throws a good deep ball,” Eberflus said. “I’m excited about it. … We’re going to take our shots on the pitch and, man, he’s doing a good job doing that.
All that offseason cheering, of course, is invigorating for the most optimistic Bears fans and the most devout Fields supporters, who have visions of a bright star soon appearing in Chicago skies that have often been completely black for the past 30 years.
And for the skeptics? Those who need a lot more evidence to certify a breakthrough? Well, let’s just say it will take more than a few flashes during organized team activities and a steady drip of predictable praise from coaches and teammates to build confidence that this struggling franchise has finally solved its problem. quarterback that has been around for decades.
The truth is that all of the milestones Fields has taken this spring are to be expected, prerequisites for success rather than indicators of likely stardom. It’s hard for a quarterback to dive during OTAs when the pads aren’t on yet, 11-on-11 work is limited, and much of the action on the field revolves around setting up the system.
To borrow an old journalism aphorism, Fields earning the trust of those around him in April and May is “the dog bites the man.” No big news.
For a “man bites a dog” headline to come out of Lake Forest during this part of the schedule, it would take some shaky looks and questionable criticism from Fields’ passers and offensive tutors. This would be great news. Whispers of questionable work ethics. Or fears that Fields is overwhelmed. Or a series of practices in which the lamentable mistakes outnumber the promising moments.
As of now, even with some expected inconsistencies, there has been none of that. And that’s a good thing for Fields and the Bears.
Yet a “seeing is believing” philosophy with this position and this team is not only the most practical approach, it is necessary. There won’t be much substance to measure Fields until training camp is a few weeks old, the intensity is up and the urgency to get the attack into a groove becomes apparent. .
It will be at the end of July and August, during a period of six weeks of training and limited pre-season game action, when Fields will have to show that he can execute this new attack smoothly, understand what he sees from the tusks and follow every shaky practice. with consistency and aplomb.
Last month, during an interview with Fox News Digital to promote C4 Energy drinks, Fields acknowledged the bumps of his rookie season and questioned the environment he was asked to assimilate into.
Now, he says, improvements are afoot.
“We’re trying to kind of reculture or bring the culture into the building,” he said. “I don’t think our culture was the best last year.”
For a team that went 6-11 with a lower level offense, such criticism is fair. But only if Fields understands that it is now his responsibility to make the culture he wants inside Halas Hall his own. He must now become the main tone setter, the energy center inside the dressing room. He must become the example that others follow. He must embody diligent and detailed preparation habits that lead to production in the field. (Without the latter, the former won’t resonate as much.)
Fields must first recognize his own shortcomings and work to resolve them. He must hold himself accountable for all mistakes in the offense while holding others to a high standard.
And he needs to be ready for some significant bumps in the road in 2022, development hiatuses that Bears fans don’t seem fully prepared for right now.
With the quest to turn the page and look forward to a bright future rather than return to another lost era, it’s easy to dismiss or forget the struggles Fields had as a rookie – 10 interceptions, 12 fumbles, a 73.2 passer rating and a seven-game losing streak as a starter to complete his freshman season.
Couple these undeniable imperfections with a major transition for Year 2 – new coach, new coordinator, new offense and not much new help up front or among skill players – and it’s easy to see why many in the NFL see a much lower 2022 ceiling for Fields than some Chicagoans.
For those who believe that in seven months the Bears will know for certain that Fields is a certain future champion or an undeniable mistake, the enormous swath of gray area the team will be going through this season is likely going to prove uncomfortable.
Remember, from 2015 to 2020, 10 quarterbacks selected in the top 20 of their respective drafts were forced to undergo a coaching change after their first season. It’s a list that includes Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Jared Goff, Mitch Trubisky, Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Daniel Jones, Dwayne Haskins, and Justin Herbert.
Only Herbert truly excelled in his second season. And that was after a rookie campaign that was already packed with promise and production. These other quarterbacks had, well, jagged edges on their growth charts, challenging their organizations to make tough judgments about their future.
In other words, Fields’ second season is likely to mix heady flashes of brilliance with maddening surges of frustration, perhaps leaving a jury hanging by January with few able to properly interpret its moments. highs and growing pains.
Commendations for Fields in May could quickly turn into cringing, head-shaking questions in October and November, especially for a Bears team that will have a small margin of error to stay at or around .500. (Losing has a way of exacerbating flaws.)
This season is shaping up to be more disorienting than most for those same reasons.
A 23-year-old quarterback will be under intense pressure to prove himself with a lot on his plate to get there. Fields has to gel with a new coaching staff and deal with a massive new playbook. He will have to identify what he likes most about the attack and clearly articulate what needs to be discarded. He’ll need to understand the ins and outs of every play, be observant enough to decipher defenses, and be sharp enough to pair quick, appropriate decisions with accurate, on-time throws.
It’s simply a lot.
But Fields will also have huge control over the direction in which everything goes with his development and the team’s progress. And for that he should be grateful, eager to prove that the current drumbeat of praise at Lake Forest leads to something more meaningful.