USA News

The spring praise for Chicago Bears QB Justin Fields is flowing. But how much does it really mean?

For much of the spring, the internal praise for Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields has been flowing through Halas Hall.

Just last week, for example, tight end Cole Kmet said he has been witnessing a noticeable step forward from Fields as the team continues attacking its offseason program. Kmet has seen the way the Bears’ new offense puts Fields on the move more frequently and has heard the certitude in the way Fields has called plays.

There’s just something that seems to be emerging.

“Man, he’s confident,” Kmet said.

New offensive coordinator Luke Getsy has been thrilled with the way Fields has been digesting the new playbook, quickly absorbing new concepts, understanding the system’s overall philosophies and applying what he’s learning inside the building out on the practice field.

“I’ve been 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’re off to a great start. He’s really accepted this challenge.”

Meanwhile, center Lucas Patrick, who knows a thing or two about standout quarterback 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 a little more than 13 months ago.

Patrick has seen no reason to lower the bar.

“You don’t get drafted as high as he does in the National Football League just by kind of having a wet noodle (for an arm) or slow feet,” Patrick said. “He’s really talented. I thought he was going to be really good. And he is exceeding my expectations.”

Patrick, too, is bullish on the young quarterback and has been impressed with Fields’ fastball.

“It’s like it keeps getting faster in the air,” he said.

And new coach Matt Eberflus? Well, he has been satisfied with the bond Fields is forming with Getsy and with the time Fields is investing to take his game up a notch. Eberflus is also sensing the stress Fields can put on opposing defenses with both his legs and his arm.

After nine practices through April and May, Eberflus can also say he has seen with his own eyes Fields’ big-play potential.

“Man, he throws a good deep ball,” Eberflus said. “I’m excited about that. … We’re going to take our shots down the field and, man, he does a nice job doing that.”

All of this offseason acclaim, of course, is invigorating for the most optimistic Bears fans and the most devout Fields backers, who have visions of a bright star soon appearing in a Chicago sky that often has been pitch black the last 30 years.

And for the skeptics? Those who need much more evidence to certify a breakthrough? Well, let’s just say it’s going to take more than a few flashes during organized team activities and a steady drip of predictable praise from coaches and teammates to create confidence that this floundering franchise has finally cured its decades-long quarterback problem.

Wait and see

The truth is all the steps Fields has been making this spring are to be expected, prerequisites for success rather than indicators of likely stardom. It’s difficult for any quarterback to nosedive during OTAs when the pads aren’t yet on, the 11-on-11 work is limited and so much of the on-field action revolves around system installation.

To borrow an old journalism aphorism, Fields earning confidence from those around him in April and May is “dog bites man.” Not big news.

For a “man bites dog” headline to come out of Lake Forest during this portion of the calendar, it would take some shaken looks and doubting reviews from Fields’ pass-catchers and offensive tutors. That would be big news. Whispers of an iffy work ethic. Or fears that Fields is overwhelmed. Or a series of practices in which woeful mistakes outnumber promising moments.

Right now, even with some expected inconsistency, there has been none of that. And that’s a good thing for Fields and the Bears.

Still, a “see-it-to-believe-it” 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 offense into a groove becomes obvious.

It will be in late-July and into August, during a six-week grind of practices and limited preseason game action, when Fields will have to show he can run this new offense smoothly, understand what he’s seeing from defenses and follow every shaky practice with steadiness and aplomb.

Gray areas

Last month, during an interview with Fox News Digital to promote C4 Energy drinks, Fields acknowledged the bumpiness of his rookie season and questioned the environment he was asked to assimilate into.

Now, he said, improvements are being made.

“We’re kind of just trying to reculture or getting the culture in the building,” he said. “I don’t think our culture was the best culture last year.”

For a team that went 6-11 with a bottom-tier offense, such criticism is fair. But only if Fields understands it is now his responsibility to take ownership of the culture he wants inside Halas Hall. He must now become the main tone-setter, the hub of energy inside the locker room. He must become the example others follow. He must embody diligent and detailed preparation habits that lead to on-field production. (Without the latter, the former won’t resonate quite as much.)

Fields must first acknowledge his own shortcomings and work to resolve them. He must hold himself accountable for the entire offense’s mistakes while pushing others to meet an elevated standard.

And he must be ready for significant bumps in the road in 2022, developmental interruptions that Bears fans don’t seem fully prepared for at this point.

With the quest to turn the page and look forward to a promising future rather than back at 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 end his first season.

Pair those undeniable blemishes with a major transition for Year 2 — new coach, new coordinator, new offense and not much new help up front or among the skills players — and it’s easy to understand why many around the NFL see a much lower 2022 ceiling for Fields than some Chicagoans do.

For those who believe that in seven months the Bears will either know for sure that Fields is a certain future champion or an undeniable mistake, the massive acreage of gray area the team will wander through this season is likely going to prove uncomfortable.

Don’t forget, from 2015-20, 10 quarterbacks selected in the top 20 of their respective drafts were forced to experience a coaching change after their first season. That’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 already was filled with promise and production. Those other quarterbacks had, well, jagged edges on their growth charts, challenging their organizations to make difficult judgments on their futures.

In other words, the likelihood is Fields’ second season will mix intoxicating flashes of brilliance with maddening surges of frustration, perhaps leaving a hung jury by January with few able to properly interpret his highest moments and the growing pains.

Heavy demands

The glowing endorsements for Fields in May could quickly turn into teeth-gritting and head-shaking questions in October and November, especially for a Bears team that will have a thin margin for error to stay at or around .500. (Losing has a way of exacerbating flaws.)

This season is setting up to be more disorienting than most for just those very reasons.

A 23-year-old quarterback will be under intense pressure to prove himself with a lot on his plate to get that done. Fields has to jell with a new coaching staff and process a voluminous new playbook. He’ll have to identify what he likes most in the offense and be vocal about what should be discarded. He will have to understand the ins and outs of every play, be properly alert to decipher defenses and be sharp enough to pair quick and proper decisions with precise, on-time throws.

Quite simply, it’s a lot.

But Fields will also have enormous control over which direction everything heads with his development and the team’s progress. And for that he should be thankful, eager to prove that the current drumbeat of commendation in Lake Forest is leading to something more meaningful.

()

File source

Tags
Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button
Close