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The next Russell Wilson? Justin Fields has a long way to go

The Bears’ rookie has even compared himself to the Seahawks’ star quarterback. But, in a struggling Bears offense, Fields hasn’t been able to consistently emulate Wilson’s knack for making big plays.

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (12) passed for 293 yards and rushed nine times for 71 yards in a 23-17 victory over the Bears at Soldier Field as a rookie in 2012.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (12) passed for 293 yards and rushed nine times for 71 yards in a 23-17 victory over the Bears at Soldier Field as a rookie in 2012.
Nam Y. Huh/AP

Bears coach Matt Nagy has defended the Bears’ herky-jerky quarterback situation in 2021 at every turn.

First, Justin Fields wasn’t going to play a down this season. Then he would be used in advantageous situations — short-yardage, red-zone, goal-line. Then, after he replaced an injured Andy Dalton, he was going back to the bench when Dalton was healthy. Then he was the full-time quarterback no matter what. Now, the experience he wasn’t supposed to get might be the best thing for him, Nagy said.

“Three or four years down the road, you can say this season helped [Fields] because he had X amount of snaps,” Nagy said on a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday. “Whereas you have other scenarios and other teams that may be going through a different scenario where a rookie quarterback is not playing.

“No one on this call — myself included — can say if that’s going to help or hurt that quarterback in this situation until three of four years down the road.”

Nagy said “we stuck to the plan” but in reality it was one adjustment after another that got the Bears where they are today with Fields. “Andy got hurt. Justin came in and proved to us that he was able to play,” Nagy said. “We knew there were going to be ups-and-downs. He continued to get better and grow every game. Anybody will tell you that.”

Well, maybe not anybody, but anyway . . .

“I would say now you fast-forward and say, ‘OK this is going to be good for him, because he’s also very mature and knows where his weaknesses and strengths are,” Nagy said. “It’s going to help him in the end. That’s just the way it went for us because of certain circumstances.”

Circumstances are underrated in the NFL — would Tom Brady and Kurt Warner be Hall of Fame quarterbacks had Drew Bledsoe and Trent Green never gotten hurt? But when it comes to managing a quarterback situation similar to the one the Bears faced this offseason, the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson is near the top as a best-case scenario.

The Seahawks had signed Matt Flynn to a free-agent contract to be their starting quarterback in 2012, when they took Wilson in the third round of the draft. After two stellar preseason games, coach Pete Carroll gave Wilson a chance to win the starting job, and Wilson took advantage.

The rest, as they say, is history. Wilson took over an offense that was no better than the Bears’ offense in 2020 — the Sea-hawks were 28th in yards, 23rd in scoring in 2011 — and breathed life into it.

Wilson’s 100.4 passer rating (26 touchdowns, 10 interceptions) was fourth in the NFL as the Seahawks improved from 7-9 to 11-5 and made the playoffs. That includes a showcase performance against the Bears in December at Soldier Field, when Wilson accounted for 364 yards of total offense — 293 passing, 71 rushing — in a 23-17 overtime victory. Brian Urlacher’s Hall of Fame career ended in that game, when he suffered a hamstring injury chasing Wilson down on a third-and-two conversion in overtime.

A year later, the Seahawks won the Super Bowl.

The Bears, of course, are not the Sea-hawks. And Justin Fields is not Russell Wilson. Not yet, anyway. Fields’ skills have been compared to Wilson’s. Even Fields said following the draft, “I’ve turned more into a Russell Wilson-type quarterback” in his two years at Ohio State.

“Russell does a great job of extending plays — not only him, but their receivers,” Fields said Wednesday when asked what he admires most about Wilson. “They have a lot of explosive plays off scrambles. That’s one thing you can take away from Russell’s game.

“Of course, I’ve always looked up to him — the kind of person he is on the field and off the field. He’s a great quarterback and a great person.”

Fields has Wilson-like skills, but a long way to go to prove he has the intangibles that have made Wilson a Hall of Fame quarterback — the flair to make those Houdini-like escapes that turn into big plays; the art of running and sliding; and the knack for staying healthy — Fields already has missed more games in one NFL season (two) than Wilson did in his first nine (zero).

But Nagy, for one, sees that coming.

“The one thing I think you see — and I’ve always said this about Russell and you’re going to continue to see this with Justin — is in big-time moments, you make big-time plays,” Nagy said.