Bears QB Justin Fields still adjusting to ongoing changes in offense
“We’re still adding plays as we go, and he’s learning the scheme,” coach Matt Eberflus explained after a rough day for the offense.
For the first time this offseason, someone at Halas Hall hit the brakes on the Justin Fields hype train.
Fields struggled with timing Monday, and the offense was noticeably off-kilter throughout practice. It’s hardly alarming, but it’s a reminder that at 23 and with 12 career games played, he still needs time.
“He’s working through the offense,” coach Matt Eberflus said. “We’re changing up the scheme every day. We’re still adding plays as we go, and he’s learning the scheme. He’s learning his footwork within that play.
“When he has his footwork right, ball’s good, looks great. That’s what he’s continuing to do.”
Fortunately for Fields, he still has almost six weeks to fine-tune every aspect of his game before the Bears open the season against the 49ers. But regardless of any early hiccups, there’s no mistaking he’s in better position than he was a year ago under Matt Nagy’s watch.
From the moment the Bears drafted Fields, they said he would not play as a rookie. Nagy was committed to a fading Andy Dalton and intended to keep Fields on the bench in what he saw as essentially a redshirt year.
That plan broke down when Dalton got hurt in Week 2 and Fields took over as the starter. Having spent the offseason working with the backups, however, unnecessarily slowed Fields’ development. The hindrances continued as Nagy failed to adjust to the quarterback change.
Fields started 10 games as a rookie and finished with a 59% completion rate, seven touchdown passes, 10 interceptions and a 73.2 passer rating. He also rushed for 420 yards and two touchdowns.
Between the coaching dysfunction and inadequate personnel around Fields, new general manager Ryan Poles said the surrounding issues “did cloud all of that” as far as evaluating Fields.
There’s never time to exhale in the NFL.
Offensive lineman Sam Mustipher clawed his way into the league as an undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame, going from a practice-squad player in 2019 to full-time starting center last season, but he’s battling to stay in the starting lineup.
When the Bears signed center Lucas Patrick, that shifted Mustipher to right guard (Patrick is out with a broken thumb but is expected back by the opener). Then they picked up seven-year veteran Michael Schofield on the eve of training camp to vie for that right-guard spot.
That’s fine with Mustipher.
“I’ve loved competition my entire life,” he said. “Every stage that I’ve been in, I’ve had to compete for a job. I’ve never been the strongest, fastest, most athletically gifted guy, so I just hang my hat on being willing to do the other things that other people aren’t willing to do.”
Graham’s extended absence
The Bears have been hoping 2021 sixth-round pick Thomas Graham could develop into a gem for them at cornerback, but he hit a snag with a hamstring injury.
Graham missed his third practice and won’t be back anytime soon.
“We got the news this morning that it’s gonna be a little bit longer for him,” Eberflus said.
“We thought it was less [of a concern, but] they’re saying it’s not progressing.”