Opportunity knocks for Justin Fields in Bears’ preseason finale
Clearly in a work-in-progress stage, Fields and Luke Getsy’s offense are more about work than progress at this point. They need all the snaps they can get.
Justin Fields playing in the final preseason game might be a great Bears debate someday — or a no-brainer in favor of sitting. But not this year. Not in Year 2 for the unproven Fields, given he has a new offensive coordinator and a new scheme, a rebuilt offensive line and a virtually anonymous receiving corps.
Clearly in a work-in-progress stage, Fields and coordinator Luke Getsy’s offense are more about work than progress at this point. They need all the snaps they can get.
So it was likely an easy decision for coach Matt Eberflus and Getsy to plan for Fields and the first-team offense to play the first half of the Bears’ preseason finale Saturday against the Browns in Cleveland.
The preseason ‘‘dress rehearsal’’ seems like all but a relic at this point, but developing units such as the Bears’ offense still need them. A week ago, a 19-yard pass from Fields to an open Cole Kmet against the Seahawks was celebrated as a revelation because, after the last four seasons of Matt Nagy’s offense, it kind of was.
But it’s a testament to just how rudimentary the Bears’ offensive maturation is at this point. And that makes any appearance by Fields worth watching, regardless of the stakes. Can Fields and the offense get the little things right to set themselves up for bigger plays down the road? That’s what Eberflus will be looking for from Fields on Saturday.
‘‘Just poise, execution, running the offense, having command, presence — him doing his thing,’’ Eberflus said. ‘‘And then we’re just excited to get him more in there, more comfortable. He’s a young player. This is a big-game experience for him prior to the start of the season, and he’s excited about it.’’
With an offensive line still in a formative stage and an already-nondescript receiving corps missing key candidates because of injuries, Fields has taken baby steps thus far in the preseason. He completed 4 of 7 passes for 48 yards in 18 snaps against the Chiefs and 5 of 7 passes for 39 yards in nine snaps against the Seahawks.
He figures to get more than that against the Browns, with the plan to play him and most of the first-team offense through the first half. Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said he will be playing his starters early, as well. That’s a key part of Eberflus’ decision to play his first-team offense.
Fields still will be without some expected key weapons, including injured receivers Byron Pringle (quadriceps) and N’Keal Harry (high ankle sprain) and center Lucas Patrick (broken thumb). Receivers Velus Jones (undisclosed) and Tajae Sharpe (undisclosed) also aren’t expected to play after missing practices this week.
But even without Patrick, who still is expected to return in time for the season opener, the Bears will be starting the same five-man offensive line for the second consecutive game: rookie left tackle Braxton Jones, left guard Cody Whitehair, center Sam Mustipher, right guard Teven Jenkins and right tackle Larry Borom.
Just the continuity alone — that group has been together for two weeks — could help Fields’ growth. Thus far, Fields’ improvement has been incremental.
‘‘He’s doing a great job,’’ receiver Equanimeous St. Brown said. ‘‘He’s a young quarterback learning a new offense, and [the] first two seasons [it’s] tough. He has the most to learn out of everybody. He has to know what the O-line’s doing, receivers, everybody. He’s doing a great job, and it’s not easy. I’m excited to see what he does.’’
With Pringle and Harry injured, St. Brown has become a prime candidate to fill the No. 2 receiver role for Fields behind Darnell Mooney. St. Brown has had a nice connection with Fields in practice — it’s clear Fields trusts him to make plays — but he has yet to be targeted in a preseason game. Trust is one thing; chemistry is another.
‘‘It’s my first year with him,’’ said St. Brown, who spent his first three seasons with the Packers and Aaron Rodgers. ‘‘I think you’ve gotta get more reps with a quarterback to build chemistry [and] trust within that quarterback. You can’t just come in — new quarterback, new receiver — and have chemistry. That takes time [and] effort, and you can put in the work. I think the offseason and training camp has helped that.’’
That’s a big reason why Fields is playing in this game. Any progress — including chemistry with his offensive line and receivers — is significant, regardless of the situation.
‘‘I think we’re all excited where he is right now, with what he’s doing with the offense,’’ Eberflus said. ‘‘We feel good about it.’’