Bears rookie QB eager to show what he can do

Justin Fields has Chicago fans salivating at watching the young quarterback take the field for the Bears this season. But his path still has one hurdle left — veteran Andy Dalton.



August 25, 2021 - 9:44 AM

Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields (1) under center in the second half during a preseason game against the Buffalo Bills on Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021, at Soldier Field in Chicago. The Bills won, 41-15. Photo by Stacey Wescott / Chicago Tribune / TNS

CHICAGO — Chicago Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields will start the third and final preseason game against the Tennessee Titans on Saturday in Nashville. After that, Andy Dalton’s play could largely determine when Bears fans next see Fields in a game.

Before practice at Halas Hall on Tuesday, Bears coach Matt Nagy reiterated his plan to start the veteran Dalton in the season opener Sept. 12 against the Los Angeles Rams in Inglewood, Calif.

But he strayed from his typical training camp message about playing Fields when the first-round pick is ready, and he acknowledged that Dalton’s play will help determine when Fields makes his debut.

“Big picture, when we talked about this from the very start, we said whoever is going to be best for the Chicago Bears — and that’s going to obviously deal with production and wins, right?” Nagy said. “So when you look at this thing, you want to make sure we all support each other with one common goal to win and offensively to score touchdowns.

“And Andy knows that. Andy is well-aware of that. Andy’s excited for the opportunity to show what he can do with these starters and in this offense. And then every day we have to evaluate, and we have to see where we’re at every single day.”

Dalton played two series in the preseason opener versus the Miami Dolphins and the entire first half against the Buffalo Bills in the second game. Playing mostly without starters such as Allen Robinson, Darnell Mooney and David Montgomery, Dalton didn’t have a ton of success moving the offense, but he did throw a 73-yard touchdown pass to Rodney Adams. He completed 13 of 21 passes for 164 yards, a touchdown and an interception in those games.

After the Bills game, Nagy said Dalton was “more frustrated than anybody” about not getting into more of a rhythm in his two game appearances, but Nagy also noted the Bears have seen him do it in practices. Now, he said, they need to see what he does in the season, and the evaluation will be on a game-by-game basis.

“It all comes down to the whys,” Nagy said when asked how he will measure Dalton against Fields at that point. “It’s a feel thing.”

Fields played about two quarters in the preseason opener and the second half of the Bills game. Against second- and third-string defenses, he has completed 23 of 39 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 79 yards and a touchdown on nine carries. Fields will make his first preseason start Saturday and play about two quarters while Dalton rests.

The Bears will determine which starters will play on a case-by-case basis, but Fields will play with some of the top group, likely including the starting offensive line, which is playing together for the first time this week after left tackle Jason Peters joined and right tackle Germain Ifedi and right guard James Daniels returned from injuries. Fields has gotten a few more reps with starters such as Robinson and Mooney in recent practices.

Nagy has long said his plan for when Fields will start will be based on the rookie’s development. But when asked Tuesday how Bears coaches will evaluate Fields when Dalton is the quarterback playing in games, Nagy said they feel good about where Fields is based on where they thought he would be at the end of training camp.

“Part of the evaluation process is where you say to yourself, ‘Where did you think Justin was going to be through training camp and is he where you thought? Is it a little bit better? Is it a little bit worse?’ ” Nagy said. “I would say for sure that for his level of where a lot of rookies are at this point in time, he passed that test.

“So that’s a good thing. We know that. But now it’s just growth for every one of these quarterbacks, Justin included.”

Nagy said he likes the way Fields prepares, asks questions when watching film or in meetings and continues to build rapport with his teammates.

Nagy saw that last bit of progress Monday after Fields didn’t throw a pass to tight end Jimmy Graham in practice when Graham was matched up with an inside linebacker. In the middle of practice, Graham walked over to Nagy and Fields and said, “Hey, man, when I’m over there, give me that ball. You throw me the ball.”