The Bears want their prized rookie to serve an apprenticeship under Andy Dalton, but giving Fields second-team reps ahead of Nick Foles is a sign the Bears will give themselves a chance to see if Fields might be ready sooner than they think.
When Bears coach Matt Nagy was asked after rookie minicamp in May if quarterback Justin Fields will get a chance to prove he’s ready to start sooner than the Bears think, he basically said, “We’ll know it when we see it.”
But it didn’t answer the question: Will he give Fields the opportunity for them to see it? If Fields is buried behind Andy Dalton and Nick Foles in training camp practices and the preseason, would Fields even get the chance to open their eyes?
It’s still unlikely that Fields will be in a dogfight for the starting job in training camp — let alone the Week 1 starter. But Nagy gave the first indication he’ll be more open-minded to that possibility when he said at Wednesday’s OTA practice that Fields would get second-team reps and Foles the third-team reps in mini-camp and presumably training camp.
With the Bears concerned about pulling the rug out from under Dalton after signing him in free agency to be the starter when he had other options, Fields’ rise up the depth chart — barring an injury — is likely to be incremental, if not subtle. Getting second-team reps ahead of Foles is a significant first step.
When Mitch Trubisky was in a similar position in 2017 — expected to spend a year of apprenticeship under Mike Glennon — he was behind both Glennon and Mark Sanchez at the start of training camp. And even when Trubisky jumped ahead of Sanchez and took second-team reps in the sixth practice of camp, coach John Fox was quick to say, ‘Don’t read too much into it.’ Still, Trubisky started the season as the No. 2 quarterback and replaced Glennon in Week 5.
Nagy is just as resolute that Dalton is — and will be — the starting quarterback in Week 1. But it seems already like this will be a more fluid situation than it was with Trubisky in 2017 — that Nagy, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo will give themselves a chance to be intrigued by the prized rookie and perhaps set the bar higher for Dalton. In 2017, Glennon only had to be standing to keep the job. If Fields shows anything in training camp, Dalton will have to actually be good.
Dalton worked with the first-team offense and Fields with the second-team offense at Wednesday’s OTA. It wasn’t revealing at all. It’s almost like the Bears are practicing just for show on media-access days during OTAs and saving the real work for Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Be that as it may, Nagy was typically and expectedly encouraged by Fields. It’ll be interesting to read between the lines as mini-camp and training camp ensue, but for now, it’s pretty standard.
“He’s done a really good job at just trying to digest everything we are teaching in this offense right now,” Nagy said of Fields. “The one thing you learn with Justin is that he does everything really well in a group setting. He listens. He observes Andy, Nick, coach Flip, Bill Lazor, myself when we are in there. But when you have one-on-one conversations with him, sometimes those settings are easier and you can be a little more specific with him — you really see him open up.”
But already, there’s a little bit of intrigue for Nagy.
“It will be cool to see him once he really starts understanding what we do in this offense, to see him continue to grow and open up and ask good questions, which he had done. Everything that we thought he was going to be when he got here with learning and being obsessed with everything that we teach him and then being able to be himself on the field — he’s doing things in a really good way.”
It’s still June. Things won’t pick up steam until training camp in late July. That’s when we’ll get a better idea of just how much Nagy is looking at this situation with open eyes and an open mind.