Bears QB Justin Fields gets the guys he wants at WR, but will they be enough?
The group could pivot on two receivers in their mid-20s fighting for their careers: Dante Pettis and Equanimeous St. Brown.
There are many questions about whether the Bears have provided quarterback Justin Fields enough firepower in the passing attack, but he’s not the one asking those.
Fields gave a resounding endorsement of his passing targets after his three-touchdown game against the Browns in the preseason finale and said he had plenty of trust in them beyond mainstays Darnell Mooney and tight end Cole Kmet.
While the prevailing opinion is that this is mostly a ragtag group of underdogs, that isn’t how their quarterback sees it, nor is it how they view themselves.
“We have a lot of guys who can do different things,” Mooney said after practice Tuesday. “We’re very strong. But we can’t just talk about it. We’ve gotta do it. We can say how good we are, and some people can say how bad we are, but we really don’t know until the season gets here.”
The evidence will be up for consideration starting Sept. 11 when the Bears host the 49ers. In the meantime, Fields seemed to get exactly what he wanted when they made their final cuts and handed him seven wide receivers.
More than half of them, by the way, missed practice with injuries: Byron Pringle, N’Keal Harry, Velus Jones and Tajae Sharpe. The Bears are hopeful Pringle will be back for Week 1, while Harry is likely to be out at least another month.
Nonetheless, when Fields was asked to name reliable targets, he mentioned Equanimeous St. Brown and Dante Pettis without hesitation. They had a combined 19 catches last season and were both available in free agency on one-year offers at about $1 million each, but they’re consistently where he needs them to be.
And they’re hungry as they play for their futures in their mid-20s.
“I just had it in my mind that once God presented me with that opportunity, I was gonna be ready for it,” said Pettis, who stamped his preseason with three catches for 37 yards and a touchdown during Fields’ snaps against the Browns.
Mooney added, “I’ve asked him, ‘How haven’t you gotten paid yet?’ The way he is at practice and the way he makes plays, now he has an opportunity to do that. And he will do that.”
Pettis came up in a similar offense with the 49ers as a second-round pick out of Washington and had a promising rookie season of 27 catches, 467 yards and five touchdowns in 2018. He has yet to return to even that level of production in a career derailed by injuries and getting cut.
Now he’s healthy, comfortable in the scheme and highly motivated. Will that be enough?
“We know what people are saying outside the building, but we block that out,” Pettis said. “There’s a lot of good receivers in the room. Anyone on this team will tell you there’s a lot of receivers that can make plays. It’s fun.”
On paper, it looks like a step down from what Fields had during his dreadful rookie season. At least he had proven asset Allen Robinson, who left for the Rams on a big contract.
But on the field, this actually feels better to Fields. For the first time, the receivers are his guys. He has been working with them all offseason, as opposed to spending that time on second-string last season and waiting for his chance behind Andy Dalton.
“I definitely feel like I have a better connection with more guys on the team compared to last year,” Fields said.
He added, “We’ve had a lot of reps. We always get extra work in after practice... It’s just constantly building.”
This might not be his final flight crew, however. With every team cutting about three dozen players heading into the season, there is now a flood of potential replacements if general manager Ryan Poles is unsatisfied with this group. But for now, the main person who needs to be comfortable with them — Fields — likes what he has.