Everyone has been craving a glimpse of the Bears’ future since they traded up to draft quarterback Justin Fields at No. 11 overall. They’ll finally get it Saturday.
It’ll be more than a glimpse, actually, because coach Matt Nagy also is bubbling with anticipation. He plans to send Fields into the game early against the Dolphins and play him extensively — possibly even into the fourth quarter.
“For sure past halftime,” Nagy said. “I’d hate to say anything is 100%, but the mindset going into this is that he’s going to get a lot of reps. Does that take him into the fourth quarter? Maybe.
“But the more reps we can get for him right now, the better. It’s only going to help him. . . . We need to get as many reps as we can with him.”
Andy Dalton will start but could exit after three plays. He and Nagy have said he’s ready to launch into the season, which starts in one month against the Rams. Fields is scheduled to take over then and stay in past halftime, at a minimum, before the Bears let third-stringer Nick Foles finish.
Nagy would prefer to keep some first-team skill players in for Fields’ snaps, and that group likely would include wide receiver Darnell Mooney and tight end Cole Kmet. No. 1 receiver Allen Robinson has been working through a hamstring issue this week, and it’s hard to envision him playing much if at all.
Nagy wrestled with the decision on Fields’ playing time. He knows if he gets injured, people will say, “You dummy, why’d you do that?” But, ultimately, he prioritized getting him meaningful experience and being able to evaluate his progress instead of being overly cautious about him getting hurt in a preseason game.
The Bears declined to make Fields available to the media leading up to his debut despite several requests.
His performance in the joint practice with the Dolphins on Thursday, however, spoke loudly. If that was a sneak preview, get your popcorn ready for Saturday. Preseason football is about to get much more exciting. Maybe even exhilarating.
Fields torched the Dolphins during red-zone work for three touchdown passes and bolted from the pocket to score with his legs, too, prompting running back David Montgomery to call him “a special kid.” After three weeks of practice, the Bears can’t stop raving about Fields’ ability and approach.
“Just his demeanor, his poise. . . . He doesn’t carry himself as a rookie,” Montgomery said. “He has this confidence about him. It’s a rarity coming in as early as he is and just taking off whenever he gets an opportunity to. It’s definitely cool to see.”
Those plays wrapped a solid two days for Fields overall. His most glaring miscue was taking a sack during a two-minute drill Wednesday, but Nagy brushed it off by saying, “The nice thing is he’s not getting hit for that, then he gets to learn from that on tape.”
The Bears have insisted on taking it slowly with Fields’ development and hope they can go all season without playing him, but it’s becoming increasingly evident that he’d be capable of handling a quicker speed. If Dalton wasn’t here, for instance, Fields almost certainly would be ready to roll by the opener.
That said, for all the hype, this is still a preseason game. If Fields shreds the Dolphins for all to see, Nagy will be happy but will not stray from his course. Likewise, if he sputters, Nagy won’t react drastically. Given that Fields came from the highest level of college football and played in the biggest games, he figures to be equally steady.
‘‘A guy like Justin,” Nagy said, “you don’t really worry about that too much.”