On third-and-13 in the Jan. 1 national semifinal, quarterback Justin Fields sprinted toward the first-down marker and tried to put a spin move on Clemson’s James Skalski, who speared him in the back and drew an ejection for targeting. Fields’ ribs ached throughout Ohio State’s national title game 10 days later.
“I’m not trying to take a hit like that again,” Fields said in August.
Less than two weeks later, Fields scrambled on third-and-12 in the preseason game against the Dolphins, ignored the sideline and tried to put a spin move on cornerback Nik Needham, who tackled him and forced a fumble.
“After that, I think I’m going to officially retire the spin move,” Fields said then.
He didn’t. In the first quarter Sunday — and see if this sounds familiar — Fields ran a quarterback draw up the middle on third-and-four. He sprinted past Raiders safety Dallin Leavitt, who pulled at his jersey, and had one player to beat — hard-hitting safety Johnathan Abram — for a first down. He tried the spin move, exposing his back to Abram, who hit him so hard that he knocked his wind out. On the sideline, the Bears put a trash can in front of Fields, in case he threw up.
Wasn’t Fields supposed to retire the spin?
“Pffft, yeah, you’re telling me,” he said with a knowing glance after the game. “I have no comment on that.”
The Bears need to keep Fields safe when he’s in the pocket. When he’s out of it, though, the rookie needs to protect himself. And he needs to do it fast — before he gets hurt.
“At this level, things are faster and they hit harder, so you’ve got to be smart with that,” coach Matt Nagy said Monday. “Close to the sticks, so you’ve got to be smart there. But at the same time, you can get caught sometimes with, how do you go down? Do you go for the first — or do you slide?”
Either way, the answer isn’t exposing your back to a charging defender.
Fields was more concerned with his left knee, which bent at an odd angle on a scramble in the second quarter. He called it a hyperextension and said he’d be fine for the Packers game. Nagy offered no update on it Monday.
Nagy smirked, though, when asked if he could fine Fields the next time he tries to spin. Fields needs to be smarter when he runs, but Nagy doesn’t want to take away his aggressiveness, either.
“If it’s a normal scramble, and he runs, it’s easy, wherever you’re at, to get down,” Nagy said. “When you’ve got that [first-down] line . . . or if you’re down in the red zone . . . you want to be able to go in there. Inside the 5, you want to score a touchdown.”
For all of Fields’ otherworldly athleticism — he ran the second-fastest 40-yard dash time of any quarterback in the NFL Scouting Combine era — he hasn’t been a rushing weapon in his three starts with the Bears. The Bears called three runs for Fields against the Raiders — the draw, a sweep left and a sweep right. He gained four yards.
Since he ran 10 times for 31 yards in replacing Andy Dalton against the Bengals, Fields has nine carries for 25 yards in three starts.
When Nagy talks about how Fields “understands he’s a quarterback,” he means this: Fields needs to look to pass first, then run when he can.
But he needs to feel it out quickly — or else.
“You know, there’s some guys that run more than others, and there’s some guys that protect themselves more than others,” Nagy said. “I think the biggest thing with Justin is, he understands he’s a quarterback. So we just want to be smart with how we do all that.”