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Until Bears’ offensive line improves, throw Andy Dalton, not Justin Fields, to the wolves

If the idea is for Fields to be the franchise’s long-term answer at quarterback, keep him safe in the short term.

Bears quarterback Justin Fields is hit by the Bills’ Andre Smith in a preseason game Saturday at Soldier Field.
Bears quarterback Justin Fields is hit by the Bills’ Andre Smith in a preseason game Saturday at Soldier Field.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Let’s weigh the deafening civic demand for Justin Fields to be the Bears’ Week 1 starting quarterback against the worst-case scenario.

Let’s weigh the thought of the rookie being a revelation from the get-go against the image of him being so flattened by a hit that his body could be used as a stretcher.

Let’s . . . let’s not. Have you seen the Bears’ offensive line? The kind way to put it is that it’s a work in progress. The not-so-kind way to put it is that it’s a wreck in progress. Do you want to put the kid behind that line, in harm’s way and on a Chicago-wide prayer list?

Andy Dalton as the Bears’ starter in the Sept. 12 opener against the Rams makes perfect sense to some of us — us being Bears coach Matt Nagy, me and, I don’t know, that guy from Accounting whose name you never caught and now are too embarrassed to ask. It’s not a popular opinion. If I might speak generally, Bears fans want excitement and victories, and they’re sure that Fields, the answer to any problem they can think of, is the right way to go. Those of us who think prudence is the correct option heading into the regular season know to mumble our thoughts under our breath to avoid a public caning.

But I’ve asked it before, and I’ll ask it again. Why the rush to give Fields the starting job? Assuming the 2021 Bears aren’t a Super Bowl team, waiting one or two or five games to play him isn’t going to make a difference. If you do think this is a Super Bowl team, then there’s no point in this discussion. If you say 17-0 isn’t out of the realm of possibility, ratcheting back the medication would be my recommendation.

I admit that I’m sitting on a strange, almost cruel perch. By politicking for Dalton to start, what I’m really saying is that his flesh and bones are worth sacrificing in the name of keeping Fields healthy. I take the high road by protecting the kid’s shiny future, but I have no problem throwing the 33-year-old Dalton to a bunch of quarterback-thirsty defenders. Not exactly what you’d call compassionate. But that’s football. We’re weighing what’s best for the team short term against what’s best for the team long term. Thus, the right answer: Bleed for us, Andy!

Fields can outrun almost anybody, and that’s one argument for starting him. But until the Bears’ offensive line gets better, it’s not worth the risk — the risk being whether he can evade the hit that will knock him out of a game, or worse.

On Wednesday, Nagy said what he has been saying since 2018, that he’s encouraged by the way the offense has been performing in practice. Someday, Nagy will get the NFL to compute good practices into a team’s record. That will be the day Mitch Trubisky’s Hall of Fame chances greatly improve.

Nagy also reminded us of what he said when he arrived three years ago: It would take time for his offense to blossom. So . . . do I have this correctly? The Bears’ ‘‘O’’ is finally peaking?

“We’re at that spot right now,’’ Nagy said.

I’m for Dalton as the starter until the offensive line proves it can keep Fields from being fed soft food the rest of his life. But I don’t see a Bears offense with Dalton in the starting lineup ever reaching a mountaintop, unless its elevation is 500 feet.

Nagy seems to believe that he has to be over-the-top supportive if he wants his players to follow him, yet he has to know that Dalton isn’t long for the starting lineup. He has to know that Fields will get his turn soon and that there will be some difficult moments ahead for the rookie. Why not bridle that enthusiasm, Coach? We’ve seen the offense struggle for two seasons, both because of a lack of good players and because of poor play-calling. What has changed?

This is going to take awhile, whether the quarterback is Dalton or Fields. One has a ton of NFL experience and the other has a ton of God-given talent. Neither of them has an offensive line for protection. Might as well offer up Dalton until the blocking improves.

Nagy threw Bears fans a small bone the other day when he announced that The Red Rifle would be the Week 1 starter. They likely won’t see Fields against the Rams, but they’ll see a lot of him in the final preseason game, against Tennessee on Saturday. The Titans won’t be playing their starters, which means there’s a chance that Fields will look very good.

And that should feed fans’ delicious sense of injustice for a few more weeks. As any Bears fan can tell you, sometimes pain feels really good.