Rookie quarterback Justin Fields took the snap, looked left and let a pass fly about 40 yards down the left sideline during the Bears’ organized-team-activity practice Wednesday at Halas Hall. Wide receiver Damiere Byrd caught the ball to audible gasps — and then cheers.
“[Fields] has that mentality of, ‘Rip your heart out,’ ’’ coach Matt Nagy said.
Nagy said Fields’ throw ‘‘just took off.” Wide receiver Darnell Mooney has a different description of Fields’ deep-pass prowess.
“It’s a beautiful ball, man,” Mooney said. “He knows where he wants to put it, and it’s very accurate. And sometimes it can get there at the right [time], but he wants it out in front of you, and he’ll give pressure to himself if it’s not there.”
Mooney has caught a few of those balls already, the kind that zip past and cause him to extend both arms to catch it in stride.
“The very first one that he threw up to me, I was smiling mid-route . . . just seeing the ball in the air and just how, where it was placed,” Mooney said. “He’s very accurate with his ball, and he understands exactly where he wants to place the ball.”
That’s an important step in the Bears’ offense. Mitch Trubisky ranked 34th in average completed air yards last year — there are 32 starters in the NFL. He was so ineffective going deep that when Nick Foles was promoted in his place, receivers coach Mike Furrey touted the return of back-shoulder throws for the first time in years.
The Bears considered the deep ball one of Fields’ greatest strengths when they traded up to draft him No. 11 overall. Nagy and 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan saw it firsthand during Fields’ second pro day. Ohio State coach Justin Day told the two coaches — who were standing together — to pay attention before a play. Fields took the ball from the shotgun, rolled right and threw deep. Nagy swore he could feel the explosion out of Fields’ hands.
“We talk about ‘air time,’ ” Nagy said. “ ‘Air time’ meaning when the wide receiver looks like he’s covered to everybody in the stadium — but when that ball touches the top of the stadium and starts coming down, the wide receiver separates. And that’s what happened on that ball. And [Byrd] made a hell of a catch.”
It’s enough to dream on.
“Oh, yeah, you see it in him,” running back Damien Williams said. “He’s going to have an outstanding career. Whenever his time comes, I know he’s going to embrace it.”
Caution, of course, is warranted. It’s only June. With most of the Bears’ starting defense sitting out voluntary OTAs, Fields was practicing against the second-tier defense — at best. Without a pass rush. Or full pads on. Or fans nearby.
And remember: Trubisky was a good practice player, too.
The Bears have Fields focused on smaller building blocks during the rest of the offseason program, which ends after next week’s three-day mandatory minicamp. He fumbled two snaps. When the Bears lined up in the wrong formation out of the huddle, though, Fields caught the mistake and corrected his teammates.
He’ll ride that roller coaster — a small victory here, a rookie mistake there — in his first season.
During starter Andy Dalton’s snaps, Fields stood near quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo and spoke the play out loud, as if he were in an invisible huddle. At this point, the little things are more important than his explosive deep passes.
But, boy, those throws are impressive.
“The big part of that is getting the right personnel, understanding the formations, where’s the ball at,” Nagy said. “And so he’s going through all of that. I thought he had a real good day of seeing that. I thought he spun the ball well.”