When Bears coach Matt Nagy told Justin Fields that he would make his first NFL start Sunday in Cleveland, the rookie quarterback was stoic.
Of course he was.
Since the day they drafted him in the first round, the Bears have found increasingly new and creative ways to describe the 22-year-old’s poise. At the start of training camp, general manager Ryan Pace said Fields’ success in high school and college led to a “natural inner confidence.” His preseason performance led the Bears to believe that even more strongly.
“I used to not be this way,” Fields said this week. “I definitely learned from past experiences, past first starts. I still remember my first start in high school, I was nervous as can be. I think being more this way — just being stoic and being even-keeled — I think that just keeps my mind calm and allows me to think more.”
If Fields was nervous in high school, no one noticed.
“I’ve never seen him get rattled,” said Matt Dickmann, his coach at Kennesaw (Ga.) Harrison High School. “That’s just Justin. He’s never shown any weakness.”
Ron Veal, his private quarterbacks coach during his high school years, didn’t see it, either. Fields doesn’t get anxious, he said, because of the work he puts in during the week.
“If he is upset, or if he is happy, he stays in that same frame of mind — same facial expression,” Veal said.
“I’ve never seen him nervous. If he was, he doesn’t display it well — which is a good thing.”
It will be a good thing Sunday when the Bears face the Browns. Like any rookie quarterback, Fields figures to be inconsistent. His mindset won’t be, though. That’s one reason — out of many — the Bears are confident in their rookie.
“There’s nothing wrong with being excited and showing positive emotion with your team — but no one wants to see knees shaking,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. “It’s one of those things where when it’s not a problem, you’re good and you can move forward. When it’s a problem, it’s a problem — and it hasn’t been a problem with Justin.”
Lazor has coached players who are outwardly nervous. That made him skittish, too.
“Guys who are way up and down emotionally, they can tip over the edge sometimes and make some bigger errors,” he said. “I think guys like Justin, who so far have shown to be flat-liners and controlled their emotions and steady, in the long haul are gonna be more successful.”
The matchup won’t be easy — the Browns boast edge rushers Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney, both former No. 1 overall picks — but the stadium should be comforting. A former Ohio State quarterback, Fields has never lost a game in the Buckeye State. Many of the fans cheering for the Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium probably have scarlet and gray jerseys in their closets.
“I don’t think he’s approaching it like, ‘This is my very first start — a lot of pressure,'” receiver Marquise Goodwin said. “I think he’s approaching it like, ‘Hey, I’m a football player. It’s a game I’ve been playing since I was a little boy. I’m just gonna go out there and execute and have fun.'”
Tight end Jimmy Graham noticed the way Fields warmed up before the season opener, when he appeared in five snaps.
“Even in the pregame, just how relaxed he is throwing the ball is pretty impressive to see,” Graham said.
Sunday, he’ll be asked to do more than that. Judging by his composure, no one should be able to tell it’s his first start.
“I like that about him,” Nagy said. “I think that’s going to be a strength for him as he moves forward and continues to learn with every game that he’s in.”