The adrenaline that comes with a breaking news story never deserts a journalist, so when word arrived that Bears rookie quarterback and savior Justin Fields would miss practice Wednesday (but possibly not the preseason game Saturday!) with groin soreness, I immediately started devising a battle plan for our Chicago Sun-Times team. You know what they say about minor injuries: They’re only minor if they happen to someone not named Justin Fields.
Story assignments scribbled on a napkin for me and Bears beat writers Patrick Finley, Jason Lieser and Mark Potash:
Finley: Reaction from Kennesaw, Georgia, Fields’ hometown. Mood — somber, defiant, tearful? (Can a mood be ‘‘tearful?’’ Hmmm.) Paint a picture for readers. Find the collection point for candles, stuffed animals, scrawled words of encouragement for the sidelined hero. Talk with the locals. Anybody see this coming years ago? Fields’ youth coach still around? Pat: If family members ask for privacy during this very difficult time, ask them if they’re referring to your tent on their lawn.
Lieser: What’s a groin injury and who figures to benefit from it? Thinking Big Pharma here. Talk to medical professionals about the short- and long-term challenges of groin soreness (potential six-part series later). Timeline for healing? What’s the difference between a groin muscle and, well, you know? Will need a diagram for the newspaper and the website (tasteful!).
Potash: Famous Bears-Packers groin injuries from the past 100 years. Get Ditka to say groins aren’t what they used to be.
Me: Big picture. Chicago, a blue-collar town of thundering highs and shuddering lows — the metaphorical dichotomy of deep-dish pizza and The Great Chicago Fire (Nice! Use this!). How does the city deal with the latest blow to its psyche? Go deeper here than that deep-dish pizza. What does Fields’ iron willpower and wondrous athleticism say about us as a city? What does the bigger societal issue of groin soreness say about us? Working headline: Beyond Hurt.
• • •
OK, I think you can see what I’m getting at here is that perhaps we in Chicago and we in the media are a bit preoccupied with all things Fields these days. When Fields, the Bears’ 2021 first-round pick who someday will lead the franchise back to Super Bowl glory because he just has to, feels groin soreness, we reflexively respond to the alarm by sliding down our fireman poles and rushing to the scene.
Take a deep, cleansing breath, everybody. If we all stay together, we’ll make it through this.
There’s still the chance Fields will play Saturday against the Bills and fulfill the cosmic edict that says he must compete against his Bears predecessor, the much-maligned Mitch Trubisky, now a backup quarterback in Buffalo. I would just ask — meekly, so as not to bring on a bombardment of objects thrown at me in anger — what’s the rush?
It’s true that Fields needs as many game reps as possible. To think he’s anywhere close to being a finished product in terms of running Matt Nagy’s offense is silly. But it’s also true that what Fields does best at this point is run, and it makes little sense to risk further injury to his groin by having him run around the field in a preseason game.
Most of what has been said and written about Fields during training camp has been with the regular-season opener in mind. Bears fans want him in there against the Rams on Sept. 12 — and, if I’m not speaking out of turn here, so do most media members. And why not? All of us are in it for the entertainment value that football brings. Fields is more entertaining than Andy Dalton the way a race car is more entertaining than a turnip. Nothing against Dalton. Or turnips. But putting Fields behind an offensive line that looks like a mystery, at best, isn’t the wisest move in the world for Week 1.
Nagy said the Bears are being ‘‘super-conservative’’ with Fields’ injury, as they should be. The goal should be for him to play when he’s ready to handle all that comes with being an NFL quarterback. Despite the hoopla surrounding him, no one can say with certainty he’s ready for the starting job, not after three weeks of training camp and one preseason game.
Is the groin injury a blessing? If it is, it’s one weird blessing. But it does give Nagy an out if he’s feeling pressure to put the kid in the starting lineup. The coach has been consistent: Dalton will be the starter Sept. 12. Very few people want to hear it, but Nagy keeps saying it anyway.
At this point, I don’t want Fields’ injury to get worse, though I am prepared for the possibility of it happening. I can see it now, a Sun-Times special section that goes beyond the immediate problem: The NFL’s Soft-Tissue Injury Epidemic: Who Knew What When?