Justin Fields prepared the Bears for Jalen Hurts’ speed — but can they tackle him?

Hurts should have every team’s attention — he’s the presumptive league MVP. But no team has seen the danger of a running quarterback first-hand quite like the Bears.

SHARE Justin Fields prepared the Bears for Jalen Hurts’ speed — but can they tackle him?
Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts walks off the field Sunday.

Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts walks off the field Sunday.

Al Bello/Getty Images

Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts should have every team’s attention — he’s the presumptive league MVP. But no team has seen the danger of a running quarterback firsthand quite like the Bears.

Their defenders have stood on the sideline all season and watched their own running passer, Justin Fields, change the dynamic of games — though not the final outcomes.

“I see it as a benefit to be able to play against somebody like Justin [in practice],” coach Matt Eberflus said. “He’s such a dynamic player — and so is Jalen. Both are guys that can get into the open space, can break a pocket down if the coverage is tight, then run with the football to create first downs.

“Going against our guy is certainly going to benefit us.”

The Bears’ first-team defense faced Fields throughout training camp. They still go against him in practice each week, whether it be drilling third downs, two-point plays or two-minute drills. The losing side does 10 push-ups.

“They have a lot of similar player characteristics,” defensive end Trevis Gipson said. “It does give us a nice warmup throughout the week.”

The Bears, though, aren’t allowed to touch their quarterback in practice. Their defenders get near Fields, chop their feet and square their hips as if they were. 

The challenge, though, is only beginning.

“It’s one thing to tag off and say, ‘Oh, yeah, I woulda tackled him,’” cornerback Jaylon Johnson said. “It’s another thing when you actually have to tackle somebody running that fast, running that hard.

“We’re used to seeing the speed or seeing that athleticism from the quarterback position. As far as making plays on that quarterback, that’s not really something you can see until game time.”

Nicholas Morrow will be watching Hurts’ hips — “We can’t go off his head fakes or shoulder fakes,” he said — while fellow linebacker Jack Sanborn said the defense needs to rally to the quarterback when he runs.

“Gotta get guys to the ball,” Sanborn said. “Guys gotta hustle and get as many hats to the ball as you can.

“I mean, he’s super-athletic. . . . He can improvise kind of on the run and go off script similar to Justin. And so it’s definitely going to be a challenge. They have a lot of different designed runs to help him get involved in the run game.”

The stakes Sunday are higher than a few push-ups. It portends challenges to come — and not just because the next quarterback on the Bears’ schedule, Bills star Josh Allen, is fourth among QBs with 628 rushing yards. As NFL teams run their quarterbacks more intentionally and more often — and they’re running more than at any point in the modern era — stopping them will become a constant chore for defenses around the league.

Hurts is on pace to run 181 times this season, which would break Lamar Jackson’s NFL record for a quarterback by five carries. Fields is on pace to have 171 carries.

Were the season to end today, Fields’ 75.4 rushing yards per game would rank second all time among quarterbacks — behind Jackson’s 80.4 in 2019. Hurts’ 52.8 would rank 13th.

“Little by little, I think that’s the way the league is going — with guys that are super-athletic that can use their legs to do multiple things,” Bears defensive coordinator Alan Williams said.

“And the thing about [Hurts] is he’s not just a set of legs; he can throw the ball, also.”

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