Saying little, Justin Fields said a lot.
“Do I think I was always put in the best position to succeed [last year]?” the Bears quarterback said Tuesday, repeating the question he was asked before the Bears’ first voluntary minicamp practice. “Um, you know, I don’t know.
“But at the end of the day that doesn’t matter. You just have to handle what you’ve got and try to make the best out of it.”
This year, it’s up to the new coaching staff to do what former head coach Matt Nagy couldn’t — to try to make Fields a dynamic centerpiece of the Bears’ offense. That unfolded on a Halas Hall backfield for the first time Tuesday in a voluntary minicamp practice afforded the Bears because they have a new head coach.
“I hope that they will just tailor the plays to my skillset –which we’re going to do,” Fields said. “So, you know, just finding out what I do best, what we do best as an offense, what we do best as a team … and run that offense.”
That didn’t happen last year, when Nagy treated Fields as the backup until he was forced not to. It wasn’t until the third practice week of the regular season — after voluntary minicamps, mandatory minicamp, training camp, preseason practices and two weeks of game prep sessions — that Fields finally took all the starter snaps in a Bears practice. And that happened only because Andy Dalton hurt his knee.
Tuesday, he took the field as the Bears’ unquestioned starter. New head coach Matt Eberflus said he had an “excellent practice,” praising his command of the offense.
“I’ve noticed just his confidence,” Eberflus said. “He’s got a really good confidence in the room. When I’m in the quarterback room, when I’m in the offensive room, (he’s) calling out the plays, executing, and then what the adjustments are if we may have that for that particular play.”
Nagy, of course, used to give similar praise to Fields. But he also didn’t start him.
“Last year was my rookie year, of course, my first in the league– (I} didn’t know if I was going to start or not, didn’t know if I was going to play,” Fields said. “So my mindset right now is completely different than last year.”
Fields was forced to learn his second new offense is as many years. Tuesday, he said the obvious — that “it would be easier if it was the same offense as last year and we were just able to grow on that.” The Bears, though, failed spectacularly enough to warrant the firing of Pace and Nagy.
Year 2 has prompted changes big and small for Fields — from the Bears designing the offense around him to having him take the shotgun snap with his left foot forward, not his right, with hopes of improving timing with his receivers.
Fields made 10 starts last year, but only four after Halloween because of injuries and a Week 18 coronavirus diagnosis. When Fields did play. puzzling play-calling led to offensive ineptitude and a cringe-inducing sack rate. Fields threw three more interceptions than he did touchdowns and won only two out of 10 games.
Still, he doesn’t consider it all a loss. Being able to learn the speed of an NFL game was better that sitting on the sidelines, Fields said. Charitably, he described his rookie year as having ups and downs. He didn’t have the latter at Ohio State, where he went 20-2 as the starter.
Fields said he learned from it.
“You can’t really do anything but deal with it and keep fighting–keep fighting for another day,” he said. “And keep working.”
Fields saw a video online recently that preached “failing until you succeed.” He liked that idea.
“No matter how many times I fail,” he said, “I’m going to just keep going until I eventually succeed.”
It’s the job of his new coaches to help him get there.