Top task for Bears’ Ryan Poles, Matt Eberflus: Give rookie QB Justin Fields what he needs
Fields will be the biggest factor in how the Bears fare over the next three seasons. The team needs to equip him for success.
Chicago was fixated on whom the Bears would hire as general manager and coach during the last three weeks, but neither Ryan Poles nor Matt Eberflus is the most important employee at Halas Hall.
It’s Justin Fields.
No one will have more influence on the Bears’ success or failure the next three seasons than Fields. The rebuild is centered on his development, and Poles and Eberflus wouldn’t have even sniffed these jobs unless they thought Fields could carry them to contention. Every hire the Bears have made and will make should be examined through the lens of what it’ll mean for Fields.
So it was curious that the Bears bypassed offensive-minded coaches such as Jim Caldwell, Brian Daboll and Eric Bieniemy in favor of Eberflus, a defensive coordinator.
Any team must brace for potential instability on the opposite side of the ball of its coach’s specialty. If things are going well, the incoming Bears offensive coordinator will be a prominent head-coaching candidate quickly. If it remains a slog, Eberflus will need to find someone new.
He has been working on the crucial hire of an offensive coordinator since taking the job Thursday morning, and the front-runner is Packers quarterbacks coach and passing-game coordinator Luke Getsy.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Friday that he had an offer in hand, but Getsy is likely to draw interest from around the NFL as teams fill their coaching vacancies. He’d also be a logical candidate in Green Bay to replace outgoing coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.
The Bears also planned to interview longtime quarterback guru Pep Hamilton, most recently of the Texans, for the position Saturday. Hamilton was their quarterbacks coach under Lovie Smith from 2007 through ’09.
Kevin Patullo, the Eagles’ passing-game coordinator, is another name worth watching. He was a Colts assistant from 2018 through ’20, when Eberflus was defensive coordinator.
Whomever Eberflus picks as his offensive coordinator has to have a better plan for Fields than former coach Matt Nagy had. It would be hard to do worse, considering the variety of ways Nagy held Fields back and how unprepared he was to game-plan for him as the starter.
The new coordinator also would be wise to at least consider trying to retain quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, though he doesn’t have any work history with Getsy, Hamilton or Patullo.
DeFilippo has a great relationship with Fields and spent the most time of any coach working closely with him during his rookie season. Much like Nagy kept quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone from the previous staff in 2018 to give Mitch Trubisky some continuity, DeFilippo would be an asset to Eberflus and his new coordinator as long as he’s aligned philosophically.
The coaching staff, along with the offensive scheme it implements, is only part of the equation for facilitating Fields’ emergence. Nagy wasn’t the only reason Fields struggled. Former general manager Ryan Pace set up some shaky infrastructure personnel-wise, and Poles needs to make substantive corrections.
The Bears, for example, allotted the ninth-lowest amount of salary-cap space to the offensive line in the NFL last season. They got what they paid for: Pro Football Focus ranked it the 11th-worst unit in the league.
How exactly was Fields supposed to blossom behind a line that allowed pressure on 24.1% of pass plays and gave up a league-high 58 sacks?
Fields certainly showed potential, but the final grade was inconclusive. He seems like he’s going to be a good player, but no one can say that definitively the way they did after the rookie seasons of Justin Herbert (2020), Dak Prescott (2016) and Russell Wilson (2012).
In 12 games, including 10 starts, Fields’ production was underwhelming: 59% completion rate, 180 passing yards per game in his starts, seven touchdown passes, 10 interceptions and 12 fumbles. He also rushed for 35 yards per game and ran for two touchdowns.
Regardless of Poles’ realistic timeline to turn the Bears into a winner, he needs to support Fields immediately by reinforcing the offensive line and making sure he has a dynamic crew of skill players. Darnell Mooney was the only wide receiver who topped 410 yards last season, and young tight end Cole Kmet has yet to prove he’s a game-changer.
It’s going to be nearly impossible for Fields to grow into a star if he’s always working with a limited cast and playing in an offense that isn’t tailored to his skills. The personnel and the coaching staff must be tilted toward helping him emerge, and that needs to be the priority for Poles and Eberflus.