Justin Fields, on developing Bears offense: ‘It’s gonna come’
With a first-year offensive coordinator, a second-year quarterback and a new cast of supporting players, even small signs of progress are hard to see. But it’s just part of the process, Fields said.
Quarterback Justin Fields and the Bears’ offense recovered from a dreadful-looking performance Tuesday and at least looked like an offense-in-training Wednesday.
The first-team offense scored on a 10-play drive against the first-team defense, with Fields throwing a fourth-and-one touchdown pass to Darnell Mooney on a midseason-level well-timed pitch-and-catch. (Truth be told, the Bears played through a fumble by Equanimeous St. Brown after a reception midway through the drive that safety Eddie Jackson recovered.)
The Bears also drove for a field goal in an end-of-half drive. Fields hit N’Keal Harry to keep the drive alive, then dumped off a pass to running back David Montgomery, who went down on his own to stop the clock with three seconds left, before Cairo Santos’ 42-yard field goal.
‘‘Those real-game moments where first, second and third down — just moving the ball and converting on third downs [are encouraging],’’ Fields said. ‘‘I think those periods were exciting.’’
It was a far cry from Tuesday, when Fields and the offense struggled to find any success against the defense in starters vs. starters drills. The Bears went three-and-out in back-to-back two-minute drives. Fields missed an open Mooney on one play, hit linebacker Nick Morrow in the back while trying to find tight end Cole Kmet and overthrew an open Harry. Even the highlight of the day — a successful goal-line drill — started with a fumbled snap and a false start.
The Bears have had numerous bad offensive days in training camp through the years. But even by their own low historical standards, their performance Tuesday was disconcerting. It was a sign that this offense, with a developing quarterback, developing offensive line, developing receiver corps and a first-year, first-time offensive coordinator in Luke Getsy, has a long, long way to go, with no assurance it’ll get there.
The return to normalcy Wednesday gave Fields and coach Matt Eberflus some room to breathe. But it remains to be seen whether this episode was part of the normal up-and-down process of camp — in which the defense wins some days and the offense wins others — or a familiar red flag.
‘‘It’s gonna come,’’ Fields said when he was asked about the frustration of enduring days when the offense looks as bad as it did Tuesday. ‘‘My competitive nature — everyone on the offensive side of the ball’s competitive nature — you’re gonna want to have a successful play every play. But you also gotta know when to take your wins and losses.’’
Fields prides himself on learning from failure and has plenty of fodder after a difficult opening week of camp.
‘‘One thing I need to do a better job [of] this year is when the play’s not there, throw the ball away or check it down,’’ Fields said. ‘‘That’s one big thing I have to get used to because I feel like in college [I] had pretty good players around me, and we’re in the league now. The defense gets paid, too, to make plays. But when the play’s not there, move on to the next play.’’
It’s all part of the process. And let the record show the Bears have been playing virtual musical chairs with their offensive line in camp, with Riley Reiff/rookie Braxton Jones at left tackle, Sam Mustipher/rookie Doug Kramer at center (with Lucas Patrick out with a broken thumb), Michael Schofield, Mustipher and rookie Ja’Tyre Carter at right guard and Larry Borom/Reiff at right tackle. On one of the ill-fated two-minute drills Tuesday, Lachavious Simmons had replaced Cody Whitehair at left guard.
It’s literally tough to watch, but that’s part of the awkwardness a developing offense, such as the Bears’, faces in camp: Everybody’s watching. Maybe not everybody, but these practices are open to the media, and many are open to the fans. Watching the Bears build an offense from scratch is like watching Thomas Edison invent the light bulb: Until he succeeded, everyone would have said, ‘‘He’ll never make it.’’
That’s where the Bears’ offense is now, failing more than succeeding but claiming to be making incremental progress that is not discernible to the untrained eye.
‘‘We know our offense,’’ Fields said. ‘‘We know the plays. We know what’s supposed to be going on. It’s hard to have an opinion on something when you don’t really know what’s going on on the inside, when you’re just looking at it from an outside view.’’
From the inside, Fields said he sees the offense heading in the right direction.
‘‘I think we’re progressing every day,’’ he said. ‘‘We’re not where we want to be yet, though, for sure.’’
They’re in that early stage where nothing about the offense is defined, especially the quarterback.
‘‘I think we can improve at everything,’’ Fields said. ‘‘As long as we continue to get better every day, we’re going to be in a good position.’’
It’s that day-by-day part that is frustrating.
‘‘It’s tough because you want to know everything right now; you want to be successful at everything right now,’’ Fields said. ‘‘So it’s really just knowing that there are going to be mistakes and just making sure that you don’t make the same mistakes twice.’’
There’s still a long way to go. And it’s not a big surprise the Bears’ offense is struggling to get its footing in the first week of camp with a new coordinator, a second-year quarterback learning a new offense and so many new pieces. At this point, ‘‘What did you expect?’’ is a fair point.
But the skepticism is fair, too. This is a franchise with a long history of offensive ineptitude and a well-chronicled dearth of productive quarterbacks. In the last 30 seasons, in fact, the Bears’ average NFL ranking in points scored is 21st. That ranks 27th among the 28 teams that have been in the league throughout that span, ahead of only the Jets (21.4).
In the last 30 seasons, the Bears have ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in scoring 22 times and in the bottom 10 of the league 17 times. They never even have had back-to-back seasons in the upper half of the NFL in scoring during that span. (And some of the rare top-10 seasons have been boosted by defensive touchdowns.)
But a week into camp, hope springs eternal — and internal, for that matter.
‘‘He’s doing a good job; he’s right on schedule,’’ Eberflus said when asked about Fields’ development. ‘‘We feel great about where he is. Footwork is clean. Operation’s getting better every day, and we’re just taking one step at a time.’’
Fields, as expected, sees only a bright future.
‘‘We have a lot of playmakers,’’ Fields said. ‘‘Luke, he’s a smart guy. He’s a great teacher. So I’m excited for this year, and I think everybody knows they’re going to put us in a position to try to do the things we do well.’’
We’ll see. The regular-season opener Sept. 11 against the 49ers is 38 days away.