Unlike the fledgling quarterbacks the Bears had the last few seasons, Andy Dalton doesn’t need this preseason game against the Dolphins. He’s not a star by any means, but he’s also not Mitch Trubisky or Nick Foles.
With 8,151 snaps and 142 starts in his career — more than Trubisky and Foles combined — and such a thorough mastery of the offense that he has committed just one mental error since the start of training camp, Dalton continues to make coach Matt Nagy’s job easier. Dalton will exit early, possibly after the first opening possession, and Nagy can tend to the ultra-important, franchise-shifting development of rookie Justin Fields.
“If he wasn’t at the point that we wanted, we would play him more in the preseason,” Nagy said. “He’s exceeded that. He could play tomorrow in a game, and I would feel great about it.”
Nagy’s plan is to let Dalton feel out how many snaps he wants — in the single digits, certainly — and that’s how it should be with a sturdy, experienced quarterback. It’d be concerning if the Bears were fretting about Dalton’s readiness at this point.
Nagy convinced himself that Trubisky was equally prepared heading into the ill-fated 2019 season and it quickly backfired on him. He knew going into 2020 that both his quarterbacks needed those snaps, but the pandemic prompted the league to cancel the preseason.
With Dalton, though, there’s not nearly as much teaching and adjusting. Trubisky was still learning how to run the offense and decode defenses.
Foles had minimal history with Nagy, and it became clear as the season progressed that they were on very different wavelengths.
Nagy erupted at Foles over a delay-of-game penalty at the 7-yard line against the Panthers, criticized him for another one against the Saints when he was too preoccupied with the plays on his wristband to get them to the line of scrimmage quickly enough and ESPN’s Brian Griese shared a conversation in which Foles said Nagy didn’t grasp that some of his play calls were doomed.
Those little snags are highly unlikely with Dalton. He already seems fluent in the offense and in step with Nagy.
“I feel really comfortable with everything that we’ve got in [the playbook], but you get out there to get into a little bit of a rhythm,” he said when asked if there was anything he needed to get out of this preseason game. “We’ll see how long I’m actually out there.”
The translation on that last part is that he’ll barely play. Nagy will have to be careful how much he uses Fields, too, because the Bears could be missing three injured starters on the offensive line.
Dalton’s most valuable work might actually be helping out on the sideline when Fields is playing. He has embraced the role of mentoring him this season, even as Fields strives to replace him, and has been serving as somewhat of a part-time assistant coach. That will continue Saturday.
In the meantime, Dalton will get one more full session of game-like competition in a joint practice with the Dolphins on Thursday.
Everything about the offense seems to be sharper since Dalton arrived, which is probably a big factor in Nagy feeling “as calm as I’ve ever been in my life” as he heads into a season in which his job appears to be at stake. Their relationship has been much closer to a partnership than the teacher-student dynamic he had with Trubisky and the choppy ride with Foles.
“Our guys right now, they’re playing fast, playing confident,” Nagy said. “It’s not like in Year 1 when they were thinking about the play. They know the play, and now they can take it to the next level.”