Quarterback Justin Fields looked the part on multiple levels, but nobody expected the rookie minicamp to be a game-changer, and it wasn’t.
Fields, the Bears’ first-round pick who has invigorated the organization inside and outside Halas Hall and given disillusioned fans who were calling for general manager Ryan Pace’s head in January a chance to dream again, will open his rookie season as an apprentice to starting quarterback Andy Dalton. Presumably, the first time coach Matt Nagy wants to see Fields start at quarterback is in Week 18, when the Bears are coasting into the playoffs. That’s The Plan.
“Andy is the starter; Andy is going to get the [No.] 1 reps,” Nagy said after the rookie-minicamp walkthrough finale Sunday. “What we’re telling Justin and Nick [Foles] to do is make sure they’re doing everything they can to be that guy.
“I know for everybody, the biggest question is, When is that going to happen? When you draft a quarterback like Justin, everyone’s very excited, and they want to know when, when, when. And, trust me, we all understand that. But we need to make sure that whatever the plan is that we put together, that it’s the best thing for the Chicago Bears.”
With that said, the big question now is how open-minded Nagy will be to the notion that Fields might be ready sooner than the Bears think. The apprenticeship plan obviously has merit — Patrick Mahomes sat behind Alex Smith with the Chiefs, Aaron Rodgers sat for three seasons behind Brett Favre with the Packers and Philip Rivers sat behind Drew Brees with the Chargers.
But throwing a rookie in the deep end isn’t an automatic disaster. Russell Wilson was a third-round pick in 2012 with the Seahawks when he beat out free-agent signee Matt Flynn to become the Week 1 starter — and the rest is history. Last year, Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert was expected to sit behind Tyrod Taylor but started in Week 2 after Taylor suffered a punctured lung in a bizarre training-room accident — and won the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award.
Nagy didn’t make any promises about giving Fields a chance to prove he’s ready to start as a rookie, saying only that he — and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo — will know it when they see it. For now, they’ll implement their plan and adjust accordingly.
“They’ll all play however they’re supposed to play,” Nagy said. “We’re all going to see whatever we’re supposed to see, and then it’s our job, as evaluators of who they are and what their strengths and weaknesses are, to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to make the Bears the best team possible. As time goes by and we see how things go, we’ll know, and we’ll all see it and feel it. I think it will be very natural, how this process goes.”
Maybe. Maybe not. There are factors that will complicate matters. The Bears’ coaches love the apprenticeship plan, but Mahomes, Rodgers and Rivers all sat behind Pro Bowl quarterbacks firmly entrenched in established offenses. Dalton is years removed from his prime and learning the offense just like Fields.
“He’s essentially like a rookie, as well,” Nagy said.
So Fields’ preparedness likely will be on a sliding scale dependent on Dalton’s (and perhaps Foles’) effectiveness. Nagy might not have time to wait for the water to boil. Smith led the NFL in passer rating in Mahomes’ rookie season — Andy Reid never had a quarterback controversy on his hands. It’s unlikely Nagy will be as lucky. But even he has to be a little eager to see exactly what he’s got.
“I completely understand that because there is an excitement and there is that want for all of us to be able to see what Justin can do,” Nagy said. “We’d be lying to you if we didn’t say that. But we’ve got to make sure as we go through this thing that we do what’s best for the Bears and for Justin.”