Two weeks of Chicago celebrating him as the quarterback to deliver the Bears from decades of offensive tedium is nothing to rookie Justin Fields.
He has been a star since he was a teenager, playing on national television and having his wild college recruitment covered in a Netflix documentary. Fields then took center stage at Ohio State — playing bigger games than any of the Bears’ the last two seasons.
So he’s fine with the frenzy. Bring it. All of it.
“I’m made for this,” he said. “I’m built for this. It’s nothing new to me.”
Fields took the first step toward proving that when he hit the field Friday afternoon for rookie minicamp and looked sharp during limited passing drills, with sixth-round pick Dazz Newsome from North Carolina as his apparent favorite target. Incomplete passes were rare, even on deep balls.
It was Fields’ first practice since the Bears traded up, including giving up their 2022 first-round pick, to take him at No. 11 overall.
Coach Matt Nagy has penciled in free agent Andy Dalton as the starter, but it would be foolish to count Fields out. He has been studying the last two weeks and will get a crash course in the offense this weekend against fellow rookies to prep him for the competition with Dalton and Nick Foles in organized team activities.
The Bears have four weeks of OTAs and minicamp scheduled, though that could change because of ongoing negotiations with the players’ union, and then the real competition begins with the opening of training camp in late July.
Fields is realistic about battling two quarterbacks with a decade in the league, but he’s eager to take his shot.
“I’m not oblivious,” he said of the competition. “I know I’m not gonna come out here and be mistake-free. Mistakes are gonna happen as a rookie. It’s just learning from those mistakes and getting better every day.”
Fields, 22, is nimbly walking that fine line between respect and ambition. It would be absurd for him to walk in the door and immediately believe he’s better than Dalton, who has taken more than 8,000 NFL snaps, but it’s reasonable — and perhaps necessary — for him to think he can beat him out before September.
“I’m going to do everything I can to get that starting job, [but] it’s not up to me,” Fields said. “Coach Nagy has a set plan on my development and stuff like that. I’m just gonna work hard and keep my head down.”
He added, “I’m very comfortable [waiting my turn]. It’s very important for the players to trust the coaches. . . . Whatever coach Nagy has planned for me is what I’m going to do and what I’m going to follow.”
Nagy had to isolate after close contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus and watched the practice via an iPad carried by an assistant. It wasn’t ideal, but he was able to watch Fields and occasionally give feedback.
At this stage, with nearly two months until training camp and another two until the season starts, all the Bears are looking for from Fields is competence and confidence. Nagy had zero doubt about either.
“He had really good command of going from play call in the headset, walking into the huddle, calling the play, everyone breaking at the same time and then having that first wide vision,” said Nagy, who’s hopeful he can coach in person Sunday. “His mechanics were really good. He seemed super-calm. A lot of times in these camps, things seem 1,000 miles per hour [to the rookies], and it didn’t seem that way.”
Nagy is missing out on crucial time for Fields before Dalton is scheduled to arrive. Once the full team is at Halas Hall, Nagy will have to divide his time between the crucial job of developing Fields and getting Dalton acclimated as a newcomer to his offense.
Even with the urgency of Dalton needing to learn the scheme as the presumptive starter for the upcoming season, it’s difficult to imagine Nagy delegating much of Fields’ education to quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor.
“There’s a lot to it, for sure,” Nagy said. “There’s going to be extra work involved.”
Those long hours will be well worth it, even if the payoff doesn’t come until 2022, and these three days are much more meaningful than they might appear. It has been a long time since the Bears drafted a quarterback who elevated the anticipation for rookie minicamp the way Fields has.
And the fact that he seems supremely ready for the ever-escalating expectations makes it even better.