The Chicago Bears’ first depth chart of 2021 codified what has been obvious for months: Andy Dalton is QB1. Justin Fields is QB2.
But for how long?
How long until Justin Fields takes over as Bears QB?
Dalton is the presumptive Week 1 starter, and our sense is he’ll keep the job for a while unless things really go sideways. The ideal scenario for Matt Nagy is what happened in Kansas City in 2017 — Nagy’s final season as Chiefs offensive coordinator.
Alex Smith — who, intriguingly enough, was at the Bears’ camp Wednesday — started all but one game for the AFC West champs that year, even with future MVP Patrick Mahomes waiting in the wings. The transition from Smith to Mahomes in 2018 was seamless.
But what if Fields proves ready sooner than expected? Or what if Dalton plays poorly and the Bears are out of it with two months to go?
With each passing practice, it’s becoming more obvious that Fields has the goods.
Fields found success in practice vs. the Dolphins
During Wednesday’s joint session with the Miami Dolphins — the first of two ahead of Saturday’s preseason game between those teams — he was locked in, we hear.
Those who got to see him for the first time marveled about his elite traits. Fields’ highlights included a 40-yard bomb to Jon’Vea Johnson in team drills and pretty much anything he did in 7-on-7s.
He is a bit like Mahomes in his ability to throw with different arm angles and from different spots. But unlike Mahomes, he can also run a 4.4-second 40. Quarterbacks with that rare ability often have an easier time transitioning to the NFL. And Fields’ dual-threat is a big reason the Bears took him in Round 1.
“I think we saw in 2018 the type of weapon Mitchell [Trubisky] was with his legs,” Nagy said. “… The ones that kill defensive coordinators is third down. There’s coverages that get eliminated with scrambling quarterbacks, versus stiffs that can’t move. There’s certain coverages that you can’t play.
Nagy continued: “With Mitchell, he used his legs on third down. He did it even last year. Justin has the same thing.”
Nagy, who might need both a winning season and a no-doubt quarterback of the future in Fields to keep his job beyond 2021, emphasized that Fields must remain a quarterback first. But the coaching staff stresses, “If they get an opportunity, take off.”
What to expect from Fields in the preseason opener
Prepare to see some of that in Saturday’s preseason opener for both teams. Fields is expected to see a fair amount of reps, although it’s a bit of mystery if any of those reps will come with the starters. The Bears’ offensive line is a mess presently, and subjecting Fields to the blitz-happy Dolphins’ starters might be a bit reckless.
Either way, simply getting on the field in an exhibition setting is a luxury that the other young first-rounder on the field didn’t get as a rookie. Tua Tagovailoa’s first live snaps in the NFL came in the regular season because COVID-19 erased the preseason.
Nagy said Fields would benefit from seeing how Tagovailoa — who, like Fields, watched behind a veteran to begin his career — conducts himself in practice this week.
“I don’t know him very well,” Tagovailoa told reporters after practice. “I just got to meet him today. I introduced myself, he introduced himself. I’ve watched him play in college. I watched when he came in as a freshman to Georgia then when he transferred to Ohio State. He’s very athletic. He’s very talented. I wish him the best.”