Justin Fields regularly trends on Twitter. Doesn’t matter if the Bears are in hibernation. Doesn’t matter if a scientist has come up with a cure for cancer. The Bears quarterback is always there, like your conscience. I’ll ask myself, “It’s March, the season is months away and what could people possibly be saying about him?’’
Silly me. There’s always something to be said about Fields even when there really isn’t. Undeterred by his rocky rookie season, Bears fans have kept up a tidal wave of love for the kid. It will carry him to the start of training camp Tuesday. On social media, the reason to talk about him can come from any number of inspirations — video of a perfect, 15-yard minicamp pass that launches a thousand odes. An expert’s quarterback ranking that outrageously libels Our Man. A report that shows Fields’ jersey as one of the top sellers in the NFL.
If he lives up to even a fraction of what people see for him in Year 2 of his career, he’ll letter in four sports this year.
And all of it — the love, the strident defenses, the virtual stalking — is OK. If you can’t be hopeful during training camp, you can’t be hopeful ever.
I’m about to ask what’s realistic for Fields in 2022, knowing full well that realism has about as much to do with training camp as goat yoga does. The reality is that, as physically talented as his biggest backers say he is, the Bears’ talent level on offense isn’t expected to be commensurate with that of a good NFL offense. That side of the ball could be really bad this season.
Now, before the true believers jump on me for injecting negativity (realism!) into what should be a joyous occasion (the start of camp), I want to point out that I have graciously given you an out. If Fields doesn’t live up to your Year 2 expectations, you’ll be able to say that new general manager Ryan Poles has saddled the poor guy with linemen who can’t block and receivers who can’t receive.
Last year, you were able to say that Fields’ struggles were all Matt Nagy’s fault. Nagy is the former Bears coach who, his detractors say, wouldn’t know a pass from a run, an X from an O or a quarterback from a nickelback. In this reading of the situation, Fields’ seven touchdowns, 10 interceptions and 73.2 passer rating were Nagy’s doing.
I’d like to say that we’ll soon find out if Nagy was to blame for everything, but I don’t think we will. Not that Nagy will escape condemnation. His ship has sailed, and it’s called the SS Offensive Ineptitude. But with the Bears’ talent level expected to be so low on offense, it’s going to be hard to pin all of the planet’s woes on Nagy. I know you’ll try.
The excuse game can last only so long, however. There has to be real progress from Fields, and just because the offense isn’t expected to be great, it doesn’t mean he has to spend a season running in place. I want to see his accuracy improve. He obviously has a good arm. Can that arm deliver footballs into the hands of receivers? Fields certainly didn’t do that well enough last season.
The rest of it is merit-badge stuff — what his teammates say about his leadership skills in the huddle, how he processes information, etc. Just complete passes more often. The hard ones and the easy ones. If he can do that, then maybe he can be the quarterback his legion of followers say he already is. Until then, it’s just a wall of sound on social media.
Again, that’s OK for now. Training camp has two parallel tracks. One track is for the players and the coaches to gel. The other is for unreined optimism, even when logic tells you to hold your horses. So enjoy the next month or so. The Bears’ preseason opener is against the Chiefs on Aug. 13, with Nagy, now a Kansas City assistant, making his return to Soldier Field. If Fields has a good game, I wouldn’t want to be Nagy. If Fields doesn’t have a good game, Bears fans can blame everybody else. What a beautiful thing preseason is.
I don’t know what you call what the Bears are doing. A rebuild? A rebuild gives sports franchises a license to stink while offering hope. It’s a weird sell, but it’s all the rage these days.
The Bears should just get it over with and change their name to “Justin Fields’ Bears.’’ I think I’ll put that on Twitter. Feel free to “love’’ it.