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When will Justin Fields play? ‘What’s the best way for us to win games?’

There will come a moment when it’s apparent that starting Fields is the best thing for the Bears, both in the short and long terms. Every day until then will feature the drumbeat of citywide curiosity: How far does Fields have to go to get to that point? 

CFP National Championship Presented by AT&T - Ohio State v Alabama
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields throws against Alabama in the national title game in January.
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Bears offensive coordinator Bill Lazor knows his rationale is going to sound funny the minute it comes out of his mouth. But he swears he’s serious.

He was asked Wednesday how he’ll balance the Bears crowning veteran Andy Dalton the starting quarterback with rookie Justin Fields needing to know a promotion is possible if he plays well.

His answer was admittedly oversimplified.

“I’m going to treat it like I was coaching the eighth-grade team — what’s the best thing for the team?” Lazor said. “At the same time, you try to get every guy as good as he can possibly be. But what is the very best thing to win games?”

There will come a moment when it’s apparent that starting Fields is the best thing for the Bears in the short term and the long term. Every day until then will feature the drumbeat of citywide curiosity: How far does Fields have to go to get to that point?

The very trajectory of the franchise — and the futures of its general manager and coach — will swing on not only how well Fields performs, but when he starts playing.

Jones Junior High doesn’t have to worry about that.

“Like all the guys that come in, it’s easy to think about the physical skill sets,” Lazor said. “It’s easy to think about what [Fields’] record was in college. . . . He had two years of really proven production.

”As a coach, you always feel a challenge with that, like, ‘OK, now what can I do? And how can I help him maximize his ability?’ It’s just kind of wide open.”

The former Ohio State star won’t lack motivation Friday, when he takes the practice field for the first day of a three-day rookie minicamp.

“I think Justin has to handle how he thinks,” Lazor said. “He’s a big guy. He’s a grown-up. He’s competed his whole life.”

He’ll do so again, even if the Bears have declared the starting competition over before the season begins. The Bears said on draft night that Dalton will start. Nick Foles is tapped to be the wise backup, a far cry from last offseason, when the Bears traded for him to challenge starter Mitch Trubisky. Foles was one of the first players to reach out to Fields after he was drafted, a fact that impressed his coaches.

Asked directly whether Fields has a chance to win the starting job outright before the season opener, Lazor said that was coach Matt Nagy’s call. Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo echoed that belief, too.

“Like [Nagy] said, I think we’ll all know when it’s Justin’s time to go win a football game,” DeFilippo said. “I’m a big believer in that, as well.”

The Bears have been conducting virtual meetings, but Friday will be the first time they get to see their rookies on their practice field.

“Obviously, we’ll know a lot more about Justin after this weekend in terms of where he’s at mentally and the way he processes and thinks and those things,” DeFilippo said. “It’s hard to tell over Zoom until you really get your hands on a player. I think we’ll know a lot more after this weekend in terms of where he’s at from a mentally processing standpoint.”

During pre-draft interviews, DeFilippo noticed how Fields would light up at the first mention of schematic questions. That’s a good sign.

On Friday, he’ll take the next step toward becoming an NFL quarterback.

But he won’t play until he gives the Bears the best chance to win.

“It really should be that simple,” Lazor said. “I know it doesn’t seem that way all the time, but what’s the best way for us to win games? That’s why we are where we are. That’s why we’re fired up.”