Bears’ season opener will reveal if Justin Fields is on track as franchise QB

The Bears have spent the last seven months doing everything they can to make Justin Fields a franchise quarterback.

They cleared out the dysfunction of former coach Matt Nagy’s offense and replaced him with new coordinator Luke Getsy and a system designed to help Fields flourish. They didn’t add any big names on the offensive line or at wide receiver, but general manager Ryan Poles insists this personnel is an upgrade. They also fine-tuned Fields’ fundamentals.

We’ve heard about it over and over. And finally, we’ll see if any of it matters when Fields and the Bears open their season Sunday against the 49ers.

“I’m very different,” Fields promised when asked how far he’s come since the end of a rookie season that was mostly frustrating and fruitless as he threw for seven touchdowns, had 10 interceptions and posted a 73.2 passer rating.

The Bears’ most important task of this season is to assess whether that’s true. They need to know if this version of Fields is worth building around. Otherwise, they need to find someone else.

For all the changes at Halas Hall, mainly the hiring of Poles and coach Matt Eberflus, Fields is still the most pivotal person in the building.

If he’s great, the rebuild will accelerate quickly and the Bears could blast through the consensus low expectations. If he’s bad, they’ll be picking high in the draft and looking for his replacement.

It’d be better for Poles and Eberflus if Fields is their answer. They know most new hires must prove they’ve put their team on course for Super Bowl contention within three seasons, and a reset at quarterback would make that timetable tough to meet.

Fields is equally determined to make himself a fixture of the Bears’ future. To cement that in his own mind, he bought a place in the Chicago area.

“I didn’t want to rent anything — I didn’t want that mindset,” he told the Sun-Times. “I want to be here for a long time. I want to be here for my whole career. I want to make this home.”

It’s easier for him to feel that way after an offseason in which Poles and Eberflus sought to maximize his skills at every turn.

They’re treating Fields like a franchise quarterback with the expectation that he’ll become one, and that’s drastically different from what he dealt with under Ryan Pace and Nagy as he prepared for his debut a year ago. He began the season as a gimmick while the Bears committed to Andy Dalton.

No one needed a fresh start more than Fields.

“Now I’m the guy, so of course we’re gonna build the offense around me [and] around the stuff that we do well as an offense,” he said. “It’s just a different mindset. Just not worrying about, ‘If I make a mistake, will I get taken out?’ It just feels way better, for sure.”

Step One for Fields was working on his actual steps. Getsy and new quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko immediately retooled his footwork to make sure his left foot is forward when he drops back, which helps get the ball out faster. That machinelike timing is essential in the short-range passing game.

The belief in Fields within the organization is at an all-time high now that he’s fully empowered as the starter and a team captain. His coaches and teammates are convinced by his improvement. The season opener is the grand reveal, where everyone will find out how real all the talk is.

“You’ve got to respect what he brings to our team,” wide receiver Darnell Mooney said. “He’s a threat every time.”

If Fields lives up to that, the Bears’ outlook is bright. If he can’t, they’ll be right back where they’ve been for the last few decades: searching.

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