The first time tight end Cole Kmet ran routes for Andy Dalton during the offseason, he got hit in the face with the ball. He wasn’t used to it being in the air before he broke out of his route.
“You just learn you’ve got to get your head around quick,” Kmet said, “and the ball is going to be on you.”
The Bears’ other pass catchers have figured that out in the months since Dalton signed a one-year deal to be — for now — the starting quarterback. They’ll spend the rest of training camp fine-tuning those nuances, be they anticipation throws — a welcome change from Mitch Trubisky — or coverage reads or route techniques.
“I’ve been a part of so many different systems that there aren’t many plays that are new to me,” Dalton said after training-camp practice Monday at Halas Hall. “I’m very confident with what we have and got going. It’s about building that chemistry during camp and being ready for Week 1. . . .
“I feel really good about where we’re at right now. Just reading body language on certain routes — you talk about anticipation throws, when you see certain moves. You know you can let the ball go, and they’re going to be in this spot.”
He has the basics down already. Coach Matt Nagy said Dalton understands the scheme 100%, less than five months after he joined the franchise.
“He’s got full control of this offense, without a doubt,” Nagy said. “We could play a game tomorrow and be just fine.”
A veteran quarterback being prepared isn’t worthy of a parade. For Dalton, who has started 144 games in 10 seasons, it’s to be expected. But it’s different from this time last year, when Nick Foles scrambled to play catch-up after the NFL shut down all in-person offseason team activities until training camp — and then canceled preseason games. And it’s a benefit to rookie Justin Fields, who can worry about improving every day while Dalton takes first-team snaps.
“It’s been good, to be honest with you,” Fields said.
On certain plays, Dalton has helped Fields zip through his progressions faster simply by telling him what he sees. Fields was struggling during seven-on-seven drills Monday — ‘‘Trying to go downfield too much,” he said — when Dalton pulled him aside and told him to simply take what the defense gives him.
“I’ve learned a lot [from Dalton],” Fields said. “Literally — you name it.”
Relegated to third string, Foles praised Dalton, too.
“He’s the leader the team needs,” he said, “and he’s doing a great job leading.”
Dalton’s impact on the Bears will be strong only so long as Fields is the backup. This early in camp, though, his command of the offense has been a stabilizing force for his teammates — including Fields — and coaches alike.
“You’re talking about a guy who’s been through a lot,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. “When you’re a quarterback with as much experience as Andy’s had, you’ve been fooled many times by the defense and hopefully learned from it, which I think he’s proven he has. He’s also figured out some things you can do to take control of it.
“And right now everyone is feeling that his experience brings some confidence with it. I think that’s rubbing off on a lot of people.”