Already, the Bears are seeing a different Justin Fields.
A year ago, Fields was a touted rookie who had no chance of winning the starting quarterback job the Bears had promised to Andy Dalton. He was cemented in Matt Nagy’s apprenticeship program — following an Alex Smith/Patrick Mahomes template the Bears had no hope of replicating.
Today, Fields is the unquestioned starter, the centerpiece of coordinator Luke Getsy’s offense. Who knows if he’ll get time to throw, or have a running game to keep a defense on its heels, or have open receivers to throw to. It’s June. But tight end Cole Kmet can see the difference.
“Just in the huddle, that’s the biggest thing for me,” Kmet said. “Just the way he commands everybody on the field.
“I think we were running two-minute these past couple of weeks — he’s just been great in terms of being vocal to everybody and being demonstrative about what he wants from everybody. It’s been fun to be a part of and fun to watch and exciting to keep drawing on this going into training camp.”
Even as he learns a new system in his second season, teammates can see Fieldsbecoming more acclimated to being the focal point of the Bears’ offense. Let the record show that he had a 73.2 passer rating and a 26.4 QB rating last season. But he has embraced his role, with apparent room for growth.
“I just feel like he’s more comfortable,” guard Cody Whitehair said. “His leadership has taken a step, and that just comes from being more comfortable from Year 1 to Year 2 — a little bit more experience, seeing things a second time or third time or fourth time. And he’s only going to continue to grow.”
Even defensive players have noticed Fields’ growth. Defensive tackle Justin Jones played with Justin Herbert with the Chargers last season before signing with the Bears in free agency and had a front-row seat to Herbert’s quick progression to “Next Big Thing” status — the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2020 and the Pro Bowl in 2021.
“I think Justin Fields is a different quarterback from Justin Herbert. A little different player, [they’re] different guys,” Jones said. “What I’ll say about Justin Fields, though, is he really loves the game of football. He has a commanding leadership on the field — a legit field general. He gets guys wound up, gets guys going.”
We’ll see how it turns out. “Command of the huddle” leadership is one of those offseason accolades that turns into a fallacy by September. Chase Daniel said it about Mitch Trubisky. Victor Cruz said it about Mike Glennon. Matt Forte said it about Josh McCown. Zach Miller said it about Jay Cutler. Even Trubisky said it about Tyler Bray.
How does a quarterback’s command of the huddle make a teammate better? Or an offense better? Whitehair has played with nine starting quarterbacks in his six seasons with the Bears — Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley, Glennon, Trubisky, Daniel, Nick Foles, Dalton and Fields. He’s as qualified as anyone to ask.
“I just think when he comes in to annunciate the play or give us what we need to know to get out there and execute the play, it’s just a lot more smooth,” Whitehair said. “He says it with more confidence. That’s just him developing from Year 1 to Year 2. We like where Justin is at, and I’m really excited for the year.”
Though Jones did not play with Fields last year, he apparently saw enough of him to see a difference in Fields this year.
“I feel like the pace of his game has [increased] since last year,” Jones said. “Obviously, first year going into your second year, your speed of the game has excelled a lot — I feel that way personally.
“I’m really excited about the season he’s about to have. Once you’ve played your first year, you’ve seen the speed of the game; you’ve seen how guys are moving; how fast the window closes; you see how fast receivers get open. I’m excited. He’s a lot more comfortable now.”
Bears coach Matt Eberflus was with the Cowboys for Dak Prescott’s first two seasons in 2016-17. Prescott’s impact was immediate. He was the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2016 and made the Pro Bowl.
“We saw him grow before our very eyes,” Eberflus said. “He’s a talent, a guy that can throw on time but also make extended plays and throw down the field, and that’s where I see that Justin is.
“I’m not trying to compare [Prescott and Fields]. They’re different players. But certainly you can see the jump that we’re going to make with Justin, and I can see those things as he starts to mature in the offense.”