The Chicago Bears have their quarterback of the future in Justin Fields. Nobody really questions that. I certainly don’t. However, the question remains — how long before he takes over, and are the Bears even capable of effectively developing a quarterback?
We all know the Patrick Mahomes story. Now arguably the best quarterback in the NFL, with an MVP, a Super Bowl ring, and another Super Bowl appearance on his resume after only four years in the NFL, he sat on the bench as a rookie behind entrenched veteran starter Alex Smith. Bears head coach Matt Nagy was the offensive coordinator for the Chiefs during the year Mahomes sat.
While some will speculate that the Bears will want to take a similar patient approach to their new signal caller, the differences are pretty stark. Before entering the NFL, Mahomes had never taken a snap from under center. He also struggled with some of the basics, like operating a huddle and calling plays.
“He started screaming the plays, and the defense could hear him on the other side because he had never called a play call in a huddle before,” Nagy said earlier this month. “Those are the little things we all think we can get up and do that these kids haven’t done — getting a snap from under center, doing different things there. So those small little processes take time. Once we get that, you can play faster and faster.”
Fields, on the other hand, operated from under center and ran a much more pro-ready offense at Ohio State than Mahomes did at Texas Tech.
Another difference — the Chiefs had Alex Smith at the helm, who had been the starting quarterback in Kansas City for four years before Mahomes was drafted in 2017. The Chiefs had the benefit of a veteran quarterback who knew the system, the playbook, the coaches, and had chemistry built in with his players. For the Bears after parting ways with Trubisky, though, they will have Fields and newly-signed QB Andy Dalton, neither of whom will enter the season with any of those familiarities. With both quarterbacks learning and building all of those nuances at the same time, the Bears have much less of a sure thing to lean on while Fields “gets ready.”
The Bears have never successfully developed a star quarterback. Ever. They’ve been snake-bitten by the position for their entire existence. Fields has the pedigree and the talent to change that, but it must be done correctly. What “correctly” is, however, is up for debate. Starting quarterbacks don’t sit and learn like they used to; the last successful example is, ironically, Mahomes. Of the top three quarterbacks drafted last year, Tua Tagovailoa is the only one that was not handed the keys fully, and he is now the one facing the most uncertainty — Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert both took over early and never relinquished the jobs.
If Fields enters rookie mini-camp this weekend and shows the poise and command that he’s notorious for, and then enters training camp in a couple months and shows understanding of the system and playbook, coupled with abilities and athleticism that Dalton simply does not have, then it will be hard for the Bears to not let the stallion out of the stable. Give him the reins, and don’t screw him up, Nagy.