When coach Matt Nagy told Justin Fields that he would make his first NFL start Sunday in Cleveland, the rookie quarterback was stoic.
Of course he was.
Since the day they drafted him in the first round, the Bears have found increasingly new and creative ways to describe Fields’ poise. At the start of training camp, general manager Ryan Pace said Fields’ success in high school and college led to a “natural inner confidence.” On Friday, running back David Montgomery described it as a “winning mentality.”
“I used to not be this way,” Fields said this week. “I definitely learned from past experiences, past first starts. I still remember my first start in high school; I was nervous as can be. I think being more this way — just being stoic and being even-keeled — that just keeps my mind calm and allows me to think more.”
If Fields was nervous in high school, no one noticed.
“I’ve never seen him get rattled,” said Matt Dickmann, his coach at Kennesaw (Georgia) Harrison High School. “That’s just Justin. He’s never shown any weakness.”
Ron Veal, his private quarterbacks coach during his high school years, didn’t see it, either. Fields doesn’t get anxious, he said, because of the work he puts in during the week.
“If he is upset or if he is happy, he stays in that same frame of mind — same facial expression,” Veal said.
“I’ve never seen him nervous. If he was, he doesn’t display it well — which is a good thing.”
It will be a good thing when the Bears face the Browns. Like any rookie quarterback, Fields, 22, figures to be inconsistent. His mindset won’t be, though. That’s one reason — out of many — the Bears are confident in him.
“There’s nothing wrong with being excited and showing positive emotion with your team, but no one wants to see knees shaking,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. “It’s one of those things where when it’s not a problem, you’re good, and you can move forward. When it’s a problem, it’s a problem — and it hasn’t been a problem with Justin.”
Lazor has coached players who are outwardly nervous. That made him skittish, too.
“Guys who are way up and down emotionally, they can tip over the edge sometimes and make some bigger errors,” he said. “I think guys like Justin, who so far have shown to be flat-liners and controlled their emotions and are steady, in the long haul are gonna be more successful.”
The matchup won’t be easy — the Browns boast edge rushers Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney, both former No. 1 overall picks — but the stadium should be comforting. A former Ohio State quarterback, Fields has never lost a game in the Buckeye State. Many of the fans cheering for the Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium probably have scarlet-and-gray jerseys in their closets.
“I don’t think he’s approaching it like, ‘This is my very first start — a lot of pressure,’ ” wide receiver Marquise Goodwin said. “I think he’s approaching it like, ‘Hey, I’m a football player. It’s a game I’ve been playing since I was a little boy. I’m just gonna go out there and execute and have fun.’ ”
Montgomery said he has never seen a player so mellow.
“You would think from a magnifying glass he’d have so much pressure on him just being in the position that he is,” Montgomery said. “But he’s so calm and composed.”
Safety Eddie Jackson hasn’t given Fields advice about how to handle his first start. He figures he doesn’t need it.
The Bears hope he’s right.
“It’s probably coming a little fast,” Jackson said. “But, you know, he takes it and handles it well. A guy like that, you probably don’t have to say something. He’s calm. And he’s ready.”