Bears hope Justin Fields ‘skyrockets’ — but his rookie struggles weren’t unique

The Bears suspect they already have their quarterback. Now they want to see Fields develop in his second year, surrounded by a new Bears brain trust of general manager Ryan Poles, coach Matt Eberflus and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy.

SHARE Bears hope Justin Fields ‘skyrockets’ — but his rookie struggles weren’t unique
New York Giants v Chicago Bears

Justin Fields watches the Bears play the Giants on Jan. 2.

Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

MOBILE, Ala. — Ohio State edge rusher Tyreke Smith checks in with his former teammate via text or Instagram. He wants to let Bears quarterback Justin Fields know that he’s watching.

“Anytime I hit him up, it’s to say, ‘Hey, man, keep doing it,’ ” he said. “People only see what he does on the field, but inside and out, he’s a really great person. [He] has a great personality, a great passion for the game.

“He treats everyone with the same respect he demands.”

Smith stood inside the Arthur R. Outlaw Mobile Convention Center shortly after sunrise Wednesday, not far from the most popular players in this year’s Senior Bowl: quarterbacks. Pitt’s Kenny Pickett and Liberty’s Malik Willis are expected to be drafted in the middle of the first round. It’s far from a vintage draft for quarterbacks — Fields would be the best among them, by far — but every franchise without a passer will consider investing in one.

The Bears suspect they already have their quarterback. Now they want to see Fields develop in his second year, surrounded by a new Bears brain trust of general manager Ryan Poles, coach Matt Eberflus and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy.

“It gets me excited in terms of, I want to give him everything he needs to be successful, and we’ll see where we’re at,” Poles said earlier this week. “ ‘Potential’ is used a lot, but he has talent.”

Poles said his former team, the Chiefs, evaluated Fields and concluded he’d be an NFL starter.

“He’s gone through adversity now,” Poles said. “He’s gone through some hard times. He’s taken some vicious hits. He’s had to get up off the ground and keep fighting. To me, that toughness he built from this past year is critical in his growth.

“We’re going to put him in position to succeed, we’re going to do what he does well and hopefully he skyrockets and becomes a very good player.”

It should comfort the Bears that he wasn’t the only rookie to struggle. The quarterbacks picked first and second overall in 2021 were among the few to finish with a worse passer rating than Fields. He ranked 28th with a 73.2 passer rating.

The Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence, chosen first, was 29th at 71.9, and the Jets’ Zach Wilson, picked second, was 31st at 69.7.

Unlike Fields, Wilson began the season as the starter. Both missed time with injuries. A knee problem forced Wilson to sit out four starts. Fields missed five because of separate injuries to his ribs and ankle and, before the season finale, a coronavirus diagnosis.

On Wednesday, Jets coach Robert Saleh, the coach of the Senior Bowl National team, detailed Wilson’s season. He sounded like he was talking about Fields.

“He had that first half of the season, things weren’t going really well for him,” he said. “Then he missed four games and really got to see the offense run through [veteran quarterbacks]. . . . When he came back in, being able to reset and create more consistency in the way he played, he was able to get better every single week. Nothing that he did was fake.”

Wilson has “tremendous arm talent’’ and the “toughness that we look for,” Saleh said.

“For him, it’s just a matter of feeling the pocket and understanding how to play within the pocket,” he said. “All the off-schedule stuff is going to happen. That’s what he’s great at.

“I feel like he took a really good step toward the end of the year. Now it’s just a matter of attacking this offseason and doing whatever he can to get ready for OTAs and training camp.”

The same can be said for Fields.

“He’s just one of those guys you want to have in your corner,” Smith said. “He’s got a good head on his shoulders. You never have to worry about him being a knucklehead. He’s just one of those guys. He just has that ‘it’ factor.”

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