Andy Dalton might be Bears coach Matt Nagy’s pick to start at quarterback in Week 1, but he’s not the people’s choice. That title belongs to Justin Fields, the Ohio State rookie on whose right arm Bears fans have staked the future of the franchise.
Dalton, to his credit, seems to know as much. On Tuesday, the 33-year-old was asked whether possible fan fervor over Fields at a training-camp practice — say, cheers after a great throw — will stoke his competitiveness.
‘‘I’m sure I’ll be making big plays, too, and hopefully they’ll be cheering at the same time,’’ he said. ‘‘Being the starter, hopefully they would see that if I’m making big plays, that’s good for everybody.’’
That’s the Bears’ mentality, too. The longer Dalton can provide them with quality quarterback play, the longer the runway for Fields before he plays — and, the Bears believe, the better the odds he succeeds.
‘‘He’s a first-round pick, I understand that,’’ Dalton said. ‘‘But I also understand that I’m the starter. I understand that. I knew I signed a one-year deal. I knew that I was going to come in and I was going to be the starter, regardless of the situation, coming in. That’s my focus. I’m not worried about all the stuff that’s going to be going on with Justin because that doesn’t affect me.’’
Dalton said he has a strong relationship with Fields, whom he’s trying to help ‘‘as much as I can.’’ But he doesn’t apologize for being the starter.
‘‘You can feel his experience and you can feel his confidence,’’ general manager Ryan Pace said of Dalton. ‘‘He’s a confident guy because, I think, the experiences that he has. And I think our players feed off of that.’’
A starter for each of his nine seasons with the Bengals, Dalton was forced to take a backup job with the Cowboys last season that he called ‘‘a step back for me.’’ He didn’t expect to play much, given starter Dak Prescott’s reputation for reliability, but then Prescott suffered a grisly compound fracture of his right ankle in October. Dalton started nine games.
‘‘I think that’s one thing when you sit back on the sideline and you’re watching the game in a backup role — for me, the competitor in me — I would want to be out there,’’ Dalton said. ‘‘I think it gives you an appreciation of actually being on the field and being the guy and being in that role.’’
How long Dalton stays in that role depends not only on his play but on Fields’ growth. The Bears know they need to develop Fields without shortcuts. For them, that means preparing him in practice.
That wasn’t the tack the Bengals took with Dalton when he was a rookie. He started all 16 games in 2011 after being drafted in the second round out of TCU. Circumstances contributed to that when quarterback Carson Palmer said he was retiring because he was frustrated with the Bengals, then was traded to the Raiders at midseason.
‘‘I think the best thing you can do is play,’’ Dalton said. ‘‘That’s the best experience you can get. When you see a new tweak, learning different defenses, learning different schemes, learning all the pressures that are going to come at you, you’re going to know the offense. I mean, you better know the offense. But it’s seeing how two different teams are going to attack you, what you’re going to do, how you’re going to respond, what plays are going to be good against certain things. The experience was such a big thing.’’
One day, that will be the case for Fields. It’s Dalton’s job to push that day as far into the future as possible.