Jimmy Graham: Justin Fields ‘definitely reminds me a lot of Russell Wilson’
The Bears tight end played alongside Wilson for three seasons, totaling 170 catches and 2,048 yards.
Maybe the Bears were able to add Russell Wilson after all.
In April, six weeks after they made a trade offer for the Seahawks’ all-world quarterback, only to be rebuffed by the Seahawks’ win-now front office, they traded up to draft Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields.
The rocket-armed rookie with an accurate, arcing deep ball and the athleticism to outrun hungry NFL defenders invoked Wilson’s name a few days later, saying he’d turned into “more of a Russell Wilson-type quarterback” at OSU. Fields said he also wanted to lead like Wilson, who has won the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award and a Super Bowl.
On Thursday, someone else made the Wilson connection. Asked about Fields, Bears tight end Jimmy Graham, without prompting, compared him to the Seahawks QB.
“Definitely reminds me a lot of Russell Wilson,” Graham said.
That’s no throwaway compliment. Graham played with Wilson for three seasons, totaling 170 catches and 2,048 yards. He knows other great quarterbacks, too, having caught passes from the Saints’ Drew Brees before Wilson and the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers after.
Unsurprisingly, the Bears put Graham’s locker next to Fields’ at Halas Hall.
“Man, I love the kid,” Graham said. “Man, he wants to be good. He wants to be great. He puts in the work. The guy really can throw the ball. That’s been impressive to see his arm strength.
“I’ve got to get him matched up at some point with a guy up there in Seattle. Especially, you know, the ability to make plays while you’re running. . . . It’s been impressive to see him so young, so focused.”
Those comments won’t do anything to tamp down the otherworldly expectations from Bears fans, who are hoping for their first franchise quarterback since Sid Luckman threw his last pass in 1950.
“Any time you add a player that kind of brings some juice and excitement, that’s good for all of us, and it’s rightfully so,” general manager Ryan Pace said last week. “So now it’s on us to kind of insulate him and handle this the right way in a big market. And I think he will get not only the coaching staff but the other support staff in the building. We communicate on a daily basis.”
The fact remains that Fields is not ahead of starter Andy Dalton one week into camp and probably won’t be by Week 1. The Bears’ plan to incubate Fields in his rookie season — the way coach Matt Nagy did with Patrick Mahomes the year before he set the NFL on fire for the Chiefs — continues apace.
Fields is OK with that.
“I think it’s a combination of him pushing himself and him knowing that he has some development to go,” quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo said Thursday. “I think it’s a fine line of Justin understanding that and also being not hard enough but critical enough of himself to be able to want to push to where he wants to be.”
While the Bears have touted Fields’ willingness to seek advice from Dalton or third-stringer Nick Foles in practice, there’s no substitute for taking snaps himself. The coaching staff scripts practice to ensure Fields has plenty of those.
Thus far, the Bears have been thrilled by the glimpses they’ve seen from Fields during those plays. On Monday in situational drills, he used his 4.4-second 40-yard dash speed to break away from defenders — who, granted, can’t hit him in practice. On Thursday, he threw a post pass into the red zone that was exactly where it should be: facemask or higher.
Then there are the things Fields does in practice that DeFilippo says you can’t teach: changing velocity depen-ding on the throw he wants to make and altering his arm angle to avoid the arms of oncoming rushers.
Off the field, he is proving to be as serious about the quarterback job as the Bears hoped he’d be.
“Any time you’re coaching a young player that really wants to learn and wants to get better and wants to be great, it’s very refreshing as a coach,” DeFilippo said.
That’s pressure for any 22-year-old, but Fields’ background suggests he can handle it. For two years, he starred for one of the country’s most popular college football teams; Mitch Trubisky and Jay Cutler didn’t have the same limelight at North Carolina and Vanderbilt.
He’s no Trubisky or Cutler — yet. And he’s certainly not Wilson — although some people can squint and see it.
“He’s not an outwardly cocky guy, but he’s very confident in his own skin,” DeFilippo said. “I think the more comfortable he is in the offense, the faster you see him play. So I think it starts with confidence in yourself, confidence in your ability. And obviously that needs to translate to the field. . . .
“Chicago is not an easy place to play quarterback, and you have to be a special type of guy to be able to play in the bigger markets where you are going to get criticism. But he’s built to withstand that for sure.”