Quarterback Justin Fields made it clear without saying it outright: The Bears’ coaching change was what he needed.
His rookie season in former coach Matt Nagy’s offense, accompanied by former general manager Ryan Pace’s personnel, was rife with snags that made it difficult for him to move toward becoming a franchise quarterback.
With new coach Matt Eberflus committed to ”building this offense around him and his strengths,” the hiring of offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and new GM Ryan Poles adamant about providing him a sturdy offensive line, Fields gets a welcomed and necessary reset.
”It’s a clean start and fresh start,” he said Monday. ”They have a great plan in place, and I’m ready to follow it.”
Everyone could see Pace and Nagy did not, in fact, have a great plan. It was ill-conceived from the jump. They promised free-agent signee Andy Dalton the starting job, only to trade up to draft Fields the next month. Nagy immediately laid out a plan for Fields to sit on the bench all season and ruled out an actual quarterback competition.
And after working as the second-stringer, Fields had little chemistry with the starters when he took over when Dalton got hurt in Week 2. He made his starting debut in Week 3, and it was so clear that Nagy didn’t know how to play to Fields’ strengths that he gave up play-calling days later. And Fields constantly was navigating personnel shortcomings around him.
Fields also missed five games because of injuries and the coronavirus. It all added up to a disjointed rookie season.
But that’s behind him. Fields is now the unquestioned starter, and all at Halas Hall are on the same page.
”Last year was kind of weird,” Fields said. ”It was kind of a weird leadership role; me and Andy would kind of switch off. But now that I am starting off the season as a starting quarterback, I think I’ll be more comfortable playing that leader role. There’s no more, ‘Oh, he’s a rookie, this and that.’ It’s time now.”
While he just met Eberflus, there already seems to be a connection. This seems much more like a partnership than it did under Nagy.
”Just his demeanor,” Fields said of Eberflus. ”He’s confident when he talks. He knows what he wants to do. He has a plan set in stone, and I’m just ready to lead with him.”
Poles and Eberflus would have been unwise to pursue these jobs if they didn’t believe in Fields because he’ll be the biggest factor in whether they succeed. The same goes for Getsy, who most recently served as Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ position coach. Fields was unfamiliar with him, but he’s eager to learn his philosophy and playbook.
”Everyone around here knows that I’m willing to do whatever to win, willing to put in however much work is needed,” he said.
Fields was the No. 11 pick last year and has three seasons left on his rookie contract. Everything rides on his development.
Poles was optimism, despite acknowledging the variety of hindrances this season ”does cloud all of that,” as he tries to assess Fields.
”I want to see what ceiling he has,” he told the Sun-Times. ”It’s our job to put him in that position to succeed. We’ll find out. It’d be really cool if he ends up being a real dude. We can win some championships that way.
”We look for flashes of him putting it together. . . . There’s something there. If we can get him to repeat that over and over and put him in a position where he’s comfortable, we might have something.”
It’s a measured reaction after Fields started 10 games and finished with 1,870 yards passing, 58.9% completions, seven touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 73.2 passer rating. He also ran for 420 yards and two touchdowns but fumbled 12 times.
Poles and Eberflus must sort out what elements of Fields’ struggles were his own deficiencies and what parts can be cured by fixing the surrounding dysfunction.