LAKE FOREST – The first time Justin Fields threw a deep ball to Darnell Mooney this spring, the second-year pro Mooney couldn’t help but smile midway through his route.
“Just seeing the ball in the air and just how [and] where it was placed,” Mooney said. “He’s very accurate with his ball, and he understands exactly where he wants to place the ball.”
It’s early June. The Bears are still three months from their season opener. Practice can be sloppy this time of year. But when Fields unloads a deep pass, he has the ability to turn heads.
He did Wednesday during organized team activities at Halas Hall. During 7-on-7s midway through practice, which was open to members of the media, Fields uncorked a bomb down the left sideline to new Bears receiver Damiere Byrd, who caught it in stride for a touchdown.
It was the type of throw that sent the Bears’ sideline buzzing out on the practice field.
“He has that mentality of rip your heart out,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “There were a couple of plays in there – and not just today but other days – where these quarterbacks are staying aggressive. And you got to see a taste of that [Wednesday] with Justin.”
Again, it’s early June. Not every throw has that same magic. There are plenty of things to work through for both the rookie Fields and the veteran Andy Dalton. Fields and his center had some issues with the snap during 11-on-11s. But that’s bound to happen with rookie quarterbacks, many of whom have spent their entire college careers in the shotgun. This time of year is for working out those issues.
Fields’ arm talent is undeniable, however. Anyone who watched the former Ohio State quarterback against Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinals saw that. He put on a clinic with six touchdown passes.
Even when Fields doesn’t do everything right, his arm has the ability to bail him out. Nagy described one play earlier in the week when quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo was unhappy with Fields’ footwork.
“We were in the [quarterbacks] room going through it just talking about how he can be better with his feet on a particular play,” Nagy said. “And it was a good throw. He made a real good throw. But Flip didn’t say anything about a really good throw. Now Flip always tells him when he sees a good throw, usually, but on this one he didn’t.”
Nagy said it was Dalton who leaned over and said, “Hey dude, that was a [heck] of a throw.”
Mooney said Fields will be hard on himself. If a ball isn’t perfect, then it’s not good enough.
“Sometimes it can get there at the right [time] but he wants it out in front of you, and he’ll give pressure to himself if it’s not there,” Mooney said.
Meanwhile, Dalton was intercepted several times Wednesday. It’s forgivable this time of year when teams are working through plays, learning what works and what doesn’t. Still, it was the rookie quarterback playing with the second-string offense that caught everyone’s attention Wednesday.
Taking attendance: Once again, numerous Bears veterans were absent from practice Wednesday. Much of the starting defense was not accounted for. Linebacker Roquan Smith and safety Tashaun Gipson were the only surefire starters who were present.
OTAs always have been optional, but this year more veterans than usual are skipping.
On defense, Khalil Mack, Eddie Jackson, Akiem Hicks, Bilal Nichols, Angelo Blackson, Mario Edwards Jr., Robert Quinn, Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan and Jaylon Johnson were absent. Offensively, Nick Foles, Allen Robinson and Jimmy Graham were absent.
Receiver Anthony Miller was present but didn’t participate in practice. Nagy said Miller is dealing with a “very minor” injury. The Bears held him out of practice as a precautionary measure.