Colts, Bears trying to escape quarterback purgatory

On Monday night, the Colts gave their rookie quarterback a gift the Bears never could give their rookie QBs: the starting job in August.

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Bears quarterback Justin Fields throws during a joint practice Wednesday with the Colts.

Bears quarterback Justin Fields throws during a joint practice Wednesday with the Colts.

Michael Conroy/AP

WESTFIELD, Ind. — On Monday night, the Colts gave their rookie quarterback a gift the Bears never could give their rookie QBs: the starting job in August. Coach Shane Steichen told Anthony Richardson, the fourth pick in this year’s draft, that he was their Week 1 starter.

Naming your first-round pick the starter during training camp sounds like a no-brainer. It hasn’t been around Halas Hall, though. The Bears traded up to take Mitch Trubisky second overall in 2017 and moved up to draft Justin Fields 11th in 2021, and they didn’t start either in the first week of their rookie seasons. Neither even got starter’s snaps during training camp.

“That’s a confidence-booster for him,” rookie wide receiver Josh Downs, Richardson’s roommate, said after the joint practice with the Bears on Wednesday night, “knowing the coaches believe in him, the organization believes in him — real early.”

In making the decision public so early during the preseason, the Colts are trying a new way out of quarterback purgatory. The Bears still haven’t escaped it.

Richardson will be their seventh starting quarterback in the last seven seasons, and the first since Andrew Luck in 2018 to be a legitimate candidate to be their signal-caller of the future. They had Philip Rivers in his last season, Matt Ryan in his and, perhaps, Carson Wentz in his.

The Colts believed in Richardson enough to avoid the temptation to trade up with the Bears in the draft. They stayed at their original spot, making the Florida quarterback the third QB taken. The Bears reaped a haul from the Panthers, who traded up for Alabama quarterback Bryce Young.

The futures of the two franchises could intersect again soon. The Bears’ two first-round draft picks could be high again next year, depending on how the Panthers do with their rookie quarterback. The same could be said for the Colts, who are projected to be among one of the NFL’s worst teams. If Fields struggles, the Bears could look to add one of the two projected generational passers in next year’s draft. Would the Colts do the same after only one year?

Richardson was drafted on potential. His Gators went 6-7 in his only season as the starter. Richardson’s last two regular-season games were losses to SEC afterthought Vanderbilt and rival Florida State. He sat out a Las Vegas Bowl loss to Oregon State. Fields, meanwhile, went 20-2 in two seasons at Ohio State, with his only two losses coming in the playoffs.

Richardson’s athleticism, though, makes him a worthy comparison to Fields entering his rookie season. His Relative Athletic Score was the highest of any quarterback to enter the draft since 1987.

“I know he’s a rookie,” Bears defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. “But he’s big, he’s strong. The quarterback runs, the college game, that type of football always presents a challenge.”

If the Colts’ offense turns into a train wreck this season — and with running back Jonathan Taylor still out, it might — Richardson can always take off and run.

Sounds like the offense the Bears ran last year.

“Do I see any similarities?” Colts cornerback Kenny Moore said. “[Fields and Richardson] are both able to throw the ball for distance effortlessly, they’re able to get out of the pocket. They’re both trying to be the best they can be. They’re both competitors to the highest degree.”

And they both have vocal critics.

When Downs said he was happy that Richardson got the starting job, he said the rookie was “proving a lot of people wrong.”

Which people, exactly?

“Just some comments you see on social media and stuff like that,” he said.

Fields has dealt with similar questions about his passing abilities. He was up-and-down again Wednesday. At his best, Fields was sharp — in team drills he followed a long gain on a seam pass to DJ Moore with a deep ball down the left sideline to fellow wide receiver Velus Jones. He struggled, too, throwing a deep interception to Colts safety Rodney Thomas when he was hit on the elbow by defensive end Genard Avery, who was hurt on the play. Touching the quarterback, even in a joint practice, is not allowed. Fields and the Colts’ defense chirped at each other at times during practice.

Steichen was on the Eagles’ staff last season that, en route to the Super Bowl, watched Fields run 15 times for 95 yards and put up a 119.5 passer rating in Week 15. He knows all about the balance between the run and pass — “I get asked that quite a bit,” he said — after working with Jalen Hurts the previous two seasons. The key, he said, is to be proficient at both.

The Bears are trying. The Colts are, too, and will get their first real glimpse of it in Week 1.

“I think you just go through it, and you see what’s going to work that week,” Steichen said. “You gotta be smart with it and do what they do best and give yourself the best chance to win.

“Whether that’s him running it or throwing it, that’s week-to-week.”

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