Justin Fields sat atop a dais in the George “Mugs” Halas Auditorium on Monday afternoon and looked forward. It was the only approach that made sense.
For the previous hour-plus, Fields’ new general manager, Ryan Poles, and his new head coach, Matt Eberflus, shared their philosophies and collective vision for getting the Chicago Bears back on track. But for Fields, the final day of January offered a bit of a rebirth.
“It definitely feels good just having a clean slate,” he said. “It’s a fresh start. Just talking to Ryan and Coach (Eberflus), I just feel like they have a great plan in place and I’m ready to follow it.”
That seemed like the moment Fields’ rookie year ended and a new leg of his journey began. Say what you want about the quarterback’s first season in Chicago, with flashes of brilliance accompanied by prolonged stretches of frustration. There were times his desired destiny as the franchise’s savior at quarterback seemed within reach, most notably during a fourth-quarter rally on “Monday Night Football” in early November in Pittsburgh.
But by season’s end, Fields’ statistical output left a lot to be desired. He threw just seven touchdown passes, committed 15 turnovers, posted a 73.2 passer rating and lost his final eight starts as the Bears again finished outside the top 20 in total offense.
Still, all of that seemed headed into the archives Monday as the Bears began a new era under Poles and Eberflus, who in turn have put Fields’ development into the hands of new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy.
Getsy, who comes to Chicago after spending the last three seasons as Aaron Rodgers’ quarterbacks coach in Green Bay and the last two as the Packers passing game coordinator, will be tasked with polishing Fields’ skills while unifying his strengths with the Bears’ new system .
Eberflus expressed his confidence in what Getsy can bring to the meeting rooms and practice fields at Halas Hall.
“He’s tough, innovative, smart,” Eberflus said. “And he works well with team. He’s a big team guy. So I’m excited. He’s been on my radar for a while.”
Fields acknowledged he has a lot to learn about his new coordinator and play caller. But as for what he wants his new coaching staff to understand about him?
“Everyone around here knows that I’m willing to do whatever to win,” Fields said. “(I’m) willing to put in however much work there is needed to be put in. So like I said before, I’m excited and can’t wait to get to work.”
After the Bears embarked on a coaching change in early January, Fields reached out to former coach Matt Nagy as well as offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo and received heartfelt guidance.
“Their advice was just to be myself,” he said. “So that’s what I’m going to do. Show them who I am, show them how hard I work and what I bring to the table. It’s really simple. I don’t have to do anything too much. Just be who I am.”
Of course, the new coaches and new offensive system have to allow fields to be himself, accentuating his strengths as much as possible.
It was notable Monday that neither Eberflus nor Poles was all that expansive with his answers to questions about Fields’ future. Eberflus described Fields as “athletic” and a “super leader” and expressed eagerness about the upcoming partnerships with Getsy.
Asked directly whether he viewed Fields as a franchise quarterback with the potential to develop into one of the league’s great players, Eberflus sidestepped the question.
“Right now,” he said, “we’re looking at everybody through the same lens. Meaning that we’re going to go back and we’re going to watch those guys (on video) with a fresh eye and we’re going to see where they are in terms of where they need to develop.
“I’m a big process guy. So I want to be able to help the player. And when you look at the player-coach relationship, one of the ways we help all players — from Player A to Player Z — is we’re going to develop a plan for those guys to get better.”
Poles tacked on to that answer without offering Fields-centric specifics.
“Any time you evaluate a player and put a plan in place, the big thing is finding out what they do well,” he said. “Whatever they do well, it’s maximizing that and then finding their weaknesses and doing what Coach just said in terms of attacking the weakness.”
Fields is eager to start that process. With seven months before the 2022 season begins, Fields and his new coaches have time to unite on a vision for how the offense can reach its full potential. But the homework must start soon with Fields gaining a better understanding of the scheme Getsy wants to run and, in due time, studying an entirely new playbook.
The Bears will get an extra week of practices this spring, an opportunity afforded to all teams with new head coaches. The installation process through organized team activities and minicamp should provide a runway for Fields and the offense toward training camp.
“I think it’s important for coaches to run plays that their players are good at running,” Fields said. “I think they already have a base idea of what my strengths are. But it’s me being able to communicate with them now and tell them what my strengths are so we can get on the same page.”
On a day filled with optimism and excitement at Halas Hall, Fields expressed his belief in Eberflus.
“I just really like the way he carries himself,” he said. “Just his demeanor, his presence. 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.”