As tumult continues on offensive line and at wide receiver, QB Justin Fields keeps pushing
That’s nothing new to Fields, who has endured turbulence and dysfunction throughout his two seasons. It’s impressive that he has developed in spite of the Bears being the Bears.
The Bears believe they finally have a franchise quarterback in Justin Fields and they’re about to send him into two meaningless games behind a ramshackle offensive line and with a receiving crew comprised of spare parts.
It could be hazardous and unproductive.
But coach Matt Eberflus has a clear message: Make it work.
That’s nothing new to Fields, who has endured turbulence and dysfunction throughout his two seasons.
Fields is still standing, still healthy and still eager to salvage something in this wayward season as the Bears visit the Lions on Sunday. It would’ve been wonderful to walk into a ready-made operation, but the constant adjusting has been part of his NFL education.
“Every game, even this game, is a learning opportunity,” Fields said Wednesday. “When those backups do come in and they’re actually starting this game, it’s just an opportunity for me and them to grow during that week.”
Eberflus credited Fields for taking that approach all season on a team that has played 10 offensive linemen, nine wide receivers and five tight ends.
He and Fields would object to categorizing the remaining games — the Bears host the Vikings on Jan. 8 — as purposeless, but the team is 3-12. The more tangible benefit would be losing the final two games to ensure the Bears get the first or second pick in the draft. That, however, is a non-factor to Eberflus and Fields.
Eberflus said he would “absolutely not” consider shutting down Fields, and Fields thought closing with a couple wins instead of sliding to the end on a 10-game losing streak would be “great momentum” for the future.
The task is daunting, even against a mediocre team like the Lions. Mediocrity is quite a step up from where the Bears sit.
They also might have just two of their original intended starting five on the offensive line: rookie left tackle Braxton Jones and right guard Teven Jenkins.
Jenkins said he’ll make his return from a neck injury Sunday, while left guard Cody Whitehair was limited Wednesday because of a knee injury that kept him out of the Bills game.
It’s bleak at wide receiver, too. Darnell Mooney went down a month ago, Chase Claypool missed the last two games with a knee injury and Equanimeous St. Brown is in the concussion protocol. Claypool and St. Brown didn’t practice Wednesday.
Fields played against the Bills with Byron Pringle, Dante Pettis, Velus Jones and N’Keal Harry as his only wide receivers, and none of them has more than 17 catches this season. Fields threw to them a total of 11 times, completing six passes for 97 yards.
“I’ve been getting extra routes with the guys that maybe didn’t [play] as much earlier in the year,” Fields said. “It’s been good just growing those relationships and trying to be on the same page as them.”
It would be if any of them were concrete pieces of the Bears’ future. Of the four receivers who played against the Bills, it’s likely Jones is the only one who will be on the team next season. Beyond the receivers, tight end Cole Kmet and running back Khalil Herbert are under contract next season, and pending free agent running back David Montgomery could re-sign.
The combination of poor protection and limited passing targets makes every drop-back perilous. Similar to a preseason game, the Bears must weigh whether it’s worth the risk to play Fields in unsafe conditions when there’s nothing at stake in the standings.
Eberflus disagreed. Again, his challenge to Fields is to make it work.
“We have to be able to figure it out and maneuver — How do we move the ball down the field when Person X is out or Person Z is out?” Eberflus said. “We’ve just got to figure it out. It’s good for the coaches, as well as Justin.”