What Bears rookie Justin Fields can learn from Tom Brady
If Fields is the franchise quarterback the Bears believe him to be, he’ll be measured against every star quarterback they play for the next decade. The main benefit for him as a rookie — perhaps the only benefit — is to study the future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterbacks on the opposing sideline this season.
Justin Fields doesn’t have to look far to find someone to aspire to Sunday. He’ll be 160 feet across the football field — or closer, depending on which hash mark the ball is spotted.
Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady is the epitome of NFL greatness. His seven Super Bowl rings — over four different presidential administrations — are more than any franchise in the NFL can claim. He has set an impossible standard.
The Bears’ rookie quarterback needs to learn from him, even if it’s just by watching. On Sunday, he has an opportunity unlike any in NFL history. Fields, who was born exactly six months after Brady made his first start at Michigan, is 22. Brady is 44. The difference between the two is the widest age gap between starting quarterbacks in NFL history.
“It’s just awesome to see him still playing when he doesn’t have anything else to prove,” Fields said. “I mean, he’s won . . . seven Super Bowl rings.
“Just seeing him play without anything left to prove shows how much he loves the game. Of course, he’s a great quarterback that will go down in history as one of the greatest to ever play the game.”
Fields spent last week trying to defuse the hype surrounding the Packers rivalry, saying the game wasn’t a one-on-one matchup between him and quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He’s right, technically. But starting pitchers don’t face each other on every play. Neither do the leading scorers on basketball teams who play different positions. That doesn’t mean they avoid comparisons.
If Fields is the franchise quarterback the Bears believe him to be, he’ll be measured against every star quarterback they play for the next decade. The main benefit for him as a rookie — perhaps the only benefit — is to study the future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterbacks on the opposing sideline this season and try to steal a few tricks.
“Shoot, I learn from watching those guys, you know? We can all learn from watching great players,” said Bears quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, who is nine months younger than Brady. “If you don’t learn from some of these guys who have been around the league for a long time and how they see the game, then you’re shutting yourself off to a lot of good information.”
Quarterbacks don’t study opposing offenses during the week. During each game, though, Bears coaches encourage Fields to watch the other quarterback, particularly on third down. The play determines whether Fields needs to get ready to take the field — but also shows how quarterbacks perform at the most critical moments of the game.
“It’s really a fun experience to be able to watch those guys and how they operate,” DeFilippo said.
There are plenty of greats for Fields to watch. Last week, Fields faced Rodgers, who, like Brady, is a three-time NFL MVP. In two weeks, he’ll stand across the field from Ben Roethlisberger, a two-time Super Bowl champion and another future Hall of Famer. None of the three has the same playing style as Fields. What the Bears want him to learn, though, transcends that. They want Fields to see the poise, skill and mastery that Brady possesses and apply that to himself.
“He wants to be Justin Fields — that’s all he cares about,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “You can respect those other guys, and I know he does. We are in a great place in this league with the amount of great quarterbacks and great quarterback play going on right now.
“You always respect that, and you ask people around them how they do things and little things like that — but then you make it your own.”
When they’re sitting around their meeting room during the week, Bears quarterbacks Andy Dalton, Nick Foles and Fields chat about the latest performances around the league, be they a Lamar Jackson run, a Justin Herbert throw or an uncanny Brady performance.
“If you’re in that room, and that position is that hard, you appreciate good quarterback play,” DeFilippo said.
Because it’s hard to compare Brady to mere mortals, DeFilippo focuses on how Brady -handles specific situations. He then has Fields apply that to his own responsibilities.
Rookie quarterbacks often think that the only way to convert third downs is to throw past the sticks. The Bears want Fields to see that an open receiver can often catch the ball short, then run for the first down.
“You bring up, ‘Hey, look at how he handled this third-and-13 — he checked the ball down, and they got it to fourth-and-two [and went for it],” DeFilippo said.
The Bears want Fields to see it in real time.
“On the sidelines, we’ll grab Justin on third-and-10: ‘Hey, if they get five here, it’ll be interesting to see what they do,’ ’’ DeFilippo said. “So [we’re] always putting ourselves in the game of kinda playing the game when the other team is on offense.”
Fields focused on how Rodgers was able to orchestrate drives. In college, Fields said it was easy to make up for lost yardage with explosive plays. In the NFL, defenses are far too stingy.
The Bears are converting only one-third of their third downs, the fifth-worst mark in the NFL. Brady’s Buccaneers convert 49.4%, the third-best.
“You can just take away how they operate their drives and how they operate a game,” Fields said. “It just can’t be two, three good plays on a drive. You have to put together consistently positive plays to get down the field and at least get points.”
The Bears aren’t doing that. Only two teams — the Jets and Texans, who also are starting rookie quarterbacks — average fewer points than the Bears’ 16.3 per game. No team averages fewer yards than the Bears’ 246.2.
Facing Rodgers, Fields said he learned not to force things — with his arm or legs. It still bothers Fields that he had first-and-10 at the Packers’ 35 with a minute left in the first half and took a delay of game, then a sack that lost 10 yards. The Bears punted.
“I learned from last game: If it’s a bad play, don’t make it worse,” he said. “Sometimes, of course, I’m gonna try to extend plays, but if it’s not there, you get rid of the ball and move on to the next play.”
Brady will be an even better teacher. This season, he has had an average time to throw of 2.53 seconds, according to NFL NextGen Stats. That’s the third-quickest in the NFL. His average of 2.45 seconds last week was second-fastest.
Rodgers shifts around the pocket like a hyperactive boxer ducking punches; Brady stands upright and throws like a reliever pitching from the stretch. Everything before that point, though, is the same. That’s where Fields can learn.
“They’re so similar in the fact that, just the things that they do at the line of scrimmage and how slow the game is to them — the defense is slow to them,” Nagy said. “They see everything before it happens. Their similarities with the confidence that they have in themselves, the ability to make every throw. The experience that they have. They’re competitive, they’re so competitive. They care. You see that. . . . You can do nothing but respect that.”
Fields does, even as he tries to be himself.
“What I like about Justin is that he is not going to change,” Nagy said. “He is who he is for a reason. He can learn and get better in certain areas, and he respects the heck out of those other guys. I know he does.”