Amid his ever-changing stance on how serious preseason games are, Bears coach Matt Nagy faces a dilemma with rookie quarterback Justin Fields. He needs to see Fields in game action to gauge his progress, but it’d be a big risk putting the future of the franchise behind a makeshift offensive line Saturday against the Dolphins.
“The only way we can evaluate is by seeing him play,” said Nagy, adding that he’ll likely scheme for extra protection. “He’s gotta get valuable reps.
“We gotta be able to evaluate — that’s the beauty of the preseason — but we also need these guys for Week 1. It’s that Catch-22. You play somebody and all of a sudden they get hurt and go, ‘You dummy. Why’d you do that?’ The other [side] is you don’t play them and [people] say they need the reps.”
Nagy expects Andy Dalton and the rest of the starters to play one or two series, but didn’t specify how long Fields will go.
Fortunately for the Bears, the Dolphins are here all week, so even if Nagy opts to play third-stringer Nick Foles the majority of the game, Fields and Dalton will get important work during the week — especially in Fields’ case. The joint practices Wednesday and Thursday might even be more valuable to him than running a vanilla version of the offense for a segment of the game.
The midweek sessions ive the Bears and Dolphins a controlled environment that’s as close as possible to the real thing before their game at Soldier Field. Nagy has been in regular communication with Miami coach Brian Flores for at least a few weeks to coordinate plans.
“That’s the benefit of being able to get with another team,” Nagy said. “Our guys are so used to seeing the same stuff… It’s a total changeup now.”
The Bears’ offensive line trouble has surely been part of the Nagy-Flores discussions. Not only is there concern about whether the group could protect Fields and Dalton on Saturday without its projected starting tackles and right guard James Daniels, but the Bears had a practice recently in which they didn’t have enough healthy linemen for separate units in the first- and second-team offenses.
Aside from that, Nagy is eager to see Fields let it rip and show what he knows against an unfamiliar defense. The Bears have been working with their first-round pick for about three months, and Nagy believes he’s ready for a test.
“I want him to cut it loose and play without thinking,” Nagy said. “Stay within what we do and the progressions, but let your personality show on the football field.”
Nagy was particularly encouraged in that regard after Fields snapped back from what Nagy called a “just OK” performance Saturday to deliver possibly his best practice since arriving. Nagy and position coach John DeFilippo raved about the way he played Sunday and saw it as a substantial step forward. Most notably, he showed “really calm feet” in the pocket under pressure.
“What we’re looking for from him is the ability to rebound from a poor decision,” Nagy said. “That is one of his strengths. He’s shown that to us. So now when you get to the game, how is all that gonna go? We won’t know that until we see it.”