A shade under five weeks since the Bears moved up in the first round to nab the Ohio State quarterback, coach Matt Nagy held court after the team's first open OTA workout and said Fields had thus far met, and to a certain extent, exceeded expectations.
“Everything that we thought he was going to be when he got here with learning and being obsessed with everything that we teach him and then being able to be himself out on the field -- he’s really doing things in a really good way,” Nagy said on a Wednesday Zoom call.
Chicago’s immediate plan at quarterback is clear. Nagy revealed Fields is slated to open the regular season as the No. 2 quarterback, behind starter Andy Dalton and in front of third-stringer Nick Foles, who missed Wednesday’s open practice for personal reasons.
Eventually, the starting job will belong to Fields. How quickly happens depends on how the rookie develops behind the scenes. The Bears say Fields has progressed at a strong and steady rate since the conclusion of last month’s rookie minicamp.
“He’s done a really good job at just trying to digest everything we are teaching in this offense in particular right now,” Nagy said. “He’s extremely, extremely calm, which I love. So when something bad happens, and the next play, it doesn’t matter to him because he’s so calm and he has confidence in himself.
"When something good happens, he reacts the same. And that part, that’s a good trait to have, because you can never get too high, you can never get too low. That’s why he’s had the success he’s had.”
Teammates have taken notice. The Bears’ voluntary offseason turnout on defense -- linebacker Roquan Smith being the notable exception -- has been low, but on offense, virtually all of the projected starters have been at Halas Hall, minus wide receiver Allen Robinson II, who is playing on the one-year franchise tag. The high attendance is understandable since the Bears have two new quarterbacks (Fields and Dalton) who are expected to log significant playing time in 2021.
“Justin is definitely a freakish athlete, to say the least,” Bears running back David Montgomery said. “He already kind of carries that leader mantra that you rarely see in rookies that I know I didn’t have.
“He’s great, and he’s progressing well. It’s good to see him, being as young as he is, being able to take the reins. Looking at Andy, following behind Andy, Andy being able to show him the ropes. He looks great out there.”
Dalton is in the unique position of trying to hang on to the starting job, while at the same time lending a helping hand in Fields’ maturation. The Bears strongly believe the positive influences provided by Dalton and Foles, coupled with Nagy’s offense and coaching staff, can develop Fields into the franchise passer the Bears desperately need.
“I'm trying to give him advice on certain things, how I would view certain plays, what I'd do with my eyes on certain things, different things that come with experience,” Dalton said. “Obviously, I'm going into Year 11. I've had a lot of ball. For me, I'm just trying to help him out a much as I can.”
The ultimate responsibility of turning Fields into an elite NFL passer, though, falls on Fields himself. The best coaching in the world won’t help a quarterback who refuses to put in the requisite work or proves incapable of processing the game at the NFL level. With Fields, the necessary physical traits appear present in abundance.
But what has Nagy most excited has been Fields’ attitude and dedication to his craft. NFL rookies are notoriously flighty. Not Fields, according to Nagy’s observations over the last month or so.
“All Justin wants to do right now is football,” Nagy noted. “That’s all he cares about. He just wants to be the best quarterback he can possibly be. He wants us to be able to teach him everything we can teach him. He wants to be able to learn from Andy.
"Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor are doing a phenomenal job right now, man. You want to talk about how obsessed and passionate, about helping these quarterbacks out.
“It will be cool to see Justin once he really starts understanding what we do here in this offense to see him continue to grow and open up and ask good questions which he has done.”