On the day he was named the Bears’ starting quarterback, 22-year-old Justin Fields acted like he’d been here before, even though he had not. It seemed like a bigger day for everyone else than it was for him.
“I think I’m ready. I’ve been preparing for this moment for a long time,” the rookie from Ohio State said after learning he would start in place of injured Andy Dalton against the Browns on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
“My mindset doesn’t change. I’m still going to have to play my football and prepare the best I can — get a lot of practice reps and study, study, study and get more comfortable and confident with the plays and stuff like that.”
While it might have been a red-letter day for Bears fans desperate for a franchise quarterback, Fields was the epitome of calm Wednesday — unmoved by the moment and focused on the task at hand. Whatever emotion he was feeling, he channelled inward and out of sight.
Fields said he was “even-keeled” when coach Matt Nagy gave him the news. “I think I had a good idea that I might start, so I wasn’t really surprised by it,” he said. “Just kind of focused and trying to get prepared for Sunday.’’
Nagy said Fields was “stoic” upon learning he was starting — and wasn’t expecting a happy dance. “He’s a guy that has a lot of confidence in himself, in a good way,” Nagy said. “It rubs off onto his teammates, to his coaches. You feel it. You understand it. You appreciate it.”
That mindset is part of the journey Fields took to get here.
“I used to not be this way,” Fields said. “I definitely learned from past experiences — past first starts. I still remember my first start in high school, I was as nervous as can be. I think being more this way — just being stoic and even-keeled — just keeps my mind calm and allows me to think more.”
He said his Bears teammates have helped instill that comfort level. “Just practicing with them every day,” Fields said. “I think they have a lot of trust in me. Them having my back and having confidence in me that I’m gonna go out there and execute — that’s kind of kept me comfortable and kept me poised and confident.”
All those qualities — the focus, confidence, stoicism and ability to channel his emotions — will come in handy Sunday. It doesn’t figure to be an easy task on the road, commanding a wobbly offense still getting its feet on the ground, against a Browns defense that, while vulnerable, still has two game-wrecking pass rushers in defensive ends Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney.
But after coming in cold against the Bengals last week, Fields will have the advantage of a full week of first-team reps in practice and a better grasp of the game plan.
“It’s definitely going to help me,” Fields said. “More than last week, of course, getting reps with the offense instead of just working with the scout [team] offense. It’s definitely going to have me more prepared this week, and I’m excited.”
That’s about as emotional as Field would get on this day. But he acknowledged the journey that got him here. Three years ago he was on the bench at Georgia behind starter Jake Fromm. On Sunday he’ll be an NFL starter. Who knows where it goes from here?
“It means a lot,” he said. “If you told me seven, eight years ago that I’d be in this position, I probably wouldn’t believe you. But as time went along, I got more comfortable and I guess my goals kind of got bigger and bigger. Around this time last year, I had an idea I could be in this position right now, so actually seeing myself in this position, being able to start on Sunday, it’s amazing.”