Pocket rocket: Justin Fields learning to hang in there
Though Fields’ legs are “a weapon not many people have,” Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said it’s more important to learn pocket awareness. “It’s the time clock that we’re training the heck out of. I think he’s doing a really good job with it.”
When Bears quarterback Justin Fields scrambled, slid for no gain and was hit by Chiefs safety Juan Thornhill in Saturday’s preseason game at Soldier Field, getting sacked, getting hit, and not getting the personal-foul call were the least of the problems on that play.
“He vacated too quickly,” offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said. “He skipped No. 2 in the progression. He kind of went left-right, and they took away No. 1. That was a great job of him getting back [to the line of scrimmage]. He got out of there a little too quick. That was one play, honestly, that I wish we had back for him.”
That’s part of “everything” that Fields himself knows he has to work on. So Getsy was heartened to see an immediate improvement in Monday’s practice at Halas Hall.
“He had two plays today where [he had] that kind twitch that he wanted to go, but then he’s like, ‘What — the pocket’s great. Let me chill,’ ” Getsy said. “It was cool to see him respond that way today.”
Knowing when to hold onto the ball and when to take off is one of the biggest parts of Fields’ maturation. Fields’ sub 4.5 40-yard dash speed is “a weapon not many people have,” Getsy said. All teams want a quarterback with Lamar Jackson’s mobility. But, as even the Ravens are learning, it still has to be an ancillary weapon.
“The key to the game at our level is that you’ve got to be able to beat people with the passing game on time,” Getsy said. “The cool part about Justin is when it’s not great, he has a weapon that not many people have.
“So we’re growing that way. But you don’t want to lean or rely on it. We have plenty of things that we’ll do in the offense that we will lean or relay on it. But when you’re in that phase of the game, it’s about getting the ball out as fast as we possibly can and efficiently and attacking the defense that way.”
Fields is trying to find that groove. It’s all about pocket presence — feeling pressure instead of having to see it, and developing a clock in your head that tells you when it’s time to go.
“Typically in college, you have a little bit more time to throw the ball than you do in the NFL. So your shot clock’s way quicker,” Getsy said. “You have to listen to your feet a lot more at our level. And when your feet tell you it’s time to move and go, you can’t hang on.
“That’s the biggest thing [to learn]. It’s the time clock that we’re training the heck out of. I think he’s doing a really good job with it.”
When the best quarterbacks find that pass/run sweet spot, it seems instinctive — when to hang in there, when to bail, how to avoid the unnecessary hit, when to slide and how to slide. And while it seems difficult to teach a quarterback to grow eyes in the back of his head — you either have it or you don’t — it’s a learned skill, Getsy said.
“It’s definitely coached. It has to be,” he said. “You see all those funky drills we’re -doing all the time, that’s what you’re trying to create — the awareness and not having to look at a rush, it’s that you feel a rush and then you feel when there’s pressure, you don’t look at the pressure.
“We’re constantly trying to give him those experiences — and then the reps in practice and reps in the games are the best. When you’re getting hit, that changes things. That part of it, you can’t get enough of.”
In 18 snaps against the Chiefs, Fields went 4-for-7 for 48 yards, with two sacks and a 78.3 passer rating.
“I liked how decisive he was,” quarterback Trevor Siemian said. “When he pulled the trigger, he went. When he broke the pocket, he went. Those are encouraging things for a young player.”
Fields, or course, still has a long way to go in developing pocket presence. But it’s only August.
“The more he plays, the better he’s going to get that feeling,” Getsy said. “Pocket presence is not an easy thing to teach. But he’s got the toughness and the guts to do it.
“When you’re evaluating quarterbacks, that’s one of the first things I’m looking for — somebody to have that willingness to stand in there, make your throw with your feet in the ground and get smacked in the jaw. He definitely has that.”