On the eve of Mitch Trubisky’s first training camp as a Bears rookie in 2017, the notion that Trubisky might outplay Mike Glennon in the preseason was brushed off as a hypothetical by general manager Ryan Pace.
“Glennon’s here for a reason,” Pace said. “This thing is going to have to play out. But Mike Glennon is our starting quarterback, and I don’t think now is the time to deal in hypotheticals.”
The tone was a little different when the same question was asked about rookie Justin Fields and veteran Andy Dalton on Tuesday while Pace and coach Matt Nagy held their annual opening news conference at Halas Hall. Nagy has made it clear that Dalton is the starting quarterback. But he enthusiastically embraced the idea that Fields could complicate matters by lighting it up at training camp and in the preseason.
“That would be awesome. That would be awesome,” Nagy said. “Trust me, just like everybody in our city, I want Justin Fields to be electric. That’s what we all want.
“But we’re worried about today — that’s all we can [do]. You all saw that Giannis [Antetokounmpo] quote [about not harping on the past]. That’s going up in all four of my kids’ bedrooms, because we can’t worry about the past; you can’t worry about the future; today — that’s all we can do.”
Like Pace in 2017, Nagy isn’t ready to directly address the idea that even as a rookie, Fields might be his best quarterback. But he can’t wait to have that problem.
So begins the Justin Fields era as the Bears open training camp with their first practice Wednesday at Halas Hall. Fields has a long, long way to go to prove he’s as good as advertised. Just playing against the Bears’ first-team defense in pads in camp will be a step up from what he already has seen. And then come preseason games against outside competition and eventually the game-speed of the regular season.
But already the Bears appear to be ahead of the starting point of the Trubisky era. Just that Nagy was answering the Fields questions at the opening news conference was a sign of progress. Four years ago, it was Pace handling the quarterback questions at Olivet Nazarene University with John Fox at his side. With Nagy, supported by veteran quarterback coaches John DeFilippo and Bill Lazor, the Bears have much more NFL experience at hand to mold a young quarterback prospect.
And then there’s Fields himself, who from Day One of rookie minicamp has looked the part of a potential franchise quarterback more than Trubisky did — for whatever that’s worth. In shorts and shells against mostly non-starting defensive players at least, he showed a touch on deep balls, a knack for putting the ball where only his receiver can get it and an ability to make snap judgments that are the marks of a champion if he can do it on the actual stage of NFL games. Almost everything he did, he looked like he had done it before.
“He just has a natural confidence to him,” Pace said, “that comes with the success he’s had, probably going back to high school and college. It’s a good balance of inner confidence without having a huge ego.”
Nagy has so much riding on Fields, he acknowledged he’ll be challenged to be patient with the rookie. “That’s a really good question because there is excitement,” Nagy said. “We understand who he is and what he can do, but we have to have a little bit of patience with how we do it.”
Now it’s up to Nagy to manage the quarterback situation with a clear mind that balances his commitment to Dalton with the potential readiness of Fields. It was easy for Fox when Glennon and the offense faltered in 2017. But if Dalton is good and Fields is indeed electric, Nagy has to be ready to make the tough call at the right time.