Bears steer QB Justin Fields in new direction after haphazard rookie season
“We just established, ‘Hey, this is who we want to be. . . . This is how we think we can be successful,’” quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko said.
When the Bears’ new staff took over and started working with Justin Fields, it inherited a quarterback who was not only unproven but also in need of some rewiring coming out of his chaotic rookie season.
It would be going too far to say Matt Nagy’s coaching and Ryan Pace’s personnel moves ruined Fields, but it’s a safe assumption that some of what he learned — either directly from the staff or out of necessity because of deficiencies around him — needed to be unlearned.
Nagy is now the Chiefs’ quarterbacks coach, standing next to Patrick Mahomes. Former Bears offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo aren’t coaching in the NFL this season.
Fields now is retaking some of those courses, but with different professors: coach Matt Eberflus, offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko.
Those three spent part of their first few months with Fields examining film from last season and showing him how changes in his mechanics — mostly his footwork in the pocket — could open the door to a brighter future. Fields bought in ‘‘right away,’’ Eberflus said.
‘‘He’s a quick learner,’’ Eberflus said. ‘‘He’s all in. Great listener. And he applies it to the field, so he’s great that way.’’
That was the reset.
Since then, the Bears’ guidance has focused on how to build Fields into the quarterback they and he envision.
‘‘It was just establishing what we want things to look like and how we want to play with the demeanor, the poise — everything that we want,’’ Janocko said before practice Tuesday. ‘‘We just established: ‘Hey, this is who we want to be. . . . This is how we think we can be successful.’ ’’
Janocko, 34, got his first role as an autonomous position coach in the NFL in 2020, when the Vikings put him in charge of overseeing wide receivers. He shifted to quarterbacks for them last season (Janocko played quarterback at Pitt and coached the position for Mercyhurst University in 2014).
Kirk Cousins posted the lowest interception percentage and third-highest passer rating of his career last season with Janocko.
Likewise, Packers star Aaron Rodgers had some of his most efficient performances while working with Getsy, then his position coach, the last three seasons. And while Rodgers was already Hall of Fame-bound before Getsy arrived, former Packers offensive lineman Corey Linsley noted, ‘‘Think of how much they learned from each other.’’
Fields could use some of that insight after struggling under Nagy’s staff. He finished his rookie season with seven touchdown passes, 10 interceptions, a 73.2 passer rating, two touchdown runs and 12 fumbles.
The circumstances certainly hindered him, but Fields also needed improvement individually. As general manager Ryan Poles pointed out when he took the job, there were ‘‘flashes of him putting it together,’’ but he must play like that consistently.
Fields’ brief appearance in the preseason opener against the Chiefs illustrated that challenge, too. He made three impressive passes but finished 4-for-7 for 48 yards and exited with three punts and no points.
‘‘There’s a lot of things we did well, but there’s a lot of things we want to fix to get to where we want to go,’’ Janocko said.
The Bears will be looking for something a little more sustained from the offense Thursday against the Seahawks.
Fields is expected to play at least two series, and it certainly would help if he gets tight end Cole Kmet and running back David Montgomery back. The team also continues to tinker with its starting offensive line, which faltered against the Chiefs.
But the later it gets, both in the season and in Fields’ run with the Bears, the more problematic inconsistency would become. It can’t be hit-and-miss indefinitely. Several recent quarterbacks have turned the corner in their first or second season, so it’s reasonable to expect Fields to do the same.