LAKE FOREST – Justin Fields likes to embrace the failures. He just hopes there’s fewer of them in 2022.
The 23-year-old quarterback tried to learn from the trials and tribulations of a turbulent season, which ended with his coach and general manager fired and featured a struggling rookie quarterback leading one of the worst passing attacks in the NFL.
Tuesday marked a new beginning. Bears players reported for training camp. Practice begins Wednesday at Halas Hall. Fans will be present for practice Thursday. A new season is here, complete with a new front office and coaching staff.
“I’m going to do whatever I can to help us win games and to help us get better each and every day,” Fields said. “Failure pushes me to even go harder.”
There still will be plenty of distractions over the next month. Such as linebacker Roquan Smith’s discontent over his contract situation or the shuffling that continues on the offensive line. The spotlight, however, will continue to shine brightest on Fields. The NFL is a league driven by its quarterbacks, and Fields holds the keys to the Bears’ offense.
Entering his second NFL season, the 2021 11th overall draft pick said he took a week-and-a-half break after minicamp in June and went on vacation with his family to Mexico. After the brief respite, it was back to work. He was back in the training facility throwing the football in the evenings.
“When I got back in town a couple weeks ago, just got the guys together and just working out with them,” Fields said. “Just kind of feeling them out and just coming up with different signals for routes and stuff like that. Just trying to feel comfortable in our offense because this is a new offense this year. Be ready to go.”
When practices begin Wednesday, the preparation for the season will kick into high gear. The basics of the offense already are installed, now the Bears need to take what they’ve worked on all spring and add to it.
“We’re going to continue to add things to the offense, and coaches will, and he’s going to have to continue to grow based on what he sees and [what] the defense throws at him,” general manager Ryan Poles said of Fields. “Continue to make plays, and I think he’s doing everything he’s supposed to.”
A big next step is Fields’ command of the offense and his leadership. It’s not easy to ask a 23-year-old to lead a football team, to lead a group of 53 men. Fields said it’s important to him that his teammates see how hard he works. He couldn’t ask them to do the same if he wasn’t putting in the work every day.
“It means a lot to me, just me being the quarterback of our team. I’m the leader,” Fields said.
Center Lucas Patrick said it was most notable this spring during two-minute drills at OTAs. Fields was firmly in charge of the huddle as the offense tried to work its way downfield. Patrick said head coach Matt Eberflus often talks to them about being “situational masters.”
“We all know, what, 90% of games come down to that last drive?” Patrick said. “And just to watch him take command and understand that each two-minute drive has its own intricacies and details and kind of learn from each. ... When a few mistakes might happen from a young guy or something for him to harp on us in a way that, ‘Hey, this is going to win us games,’ – that’s important. That’s what makes a good leader and a good leader and quarterback.”
Everyone is eager to see what the Bears’ new offense will look like, and to see what Fields will look like without the shadow of former coach Matt Nagy. The next few weeks should give a glimpse into just what this team will look like.
As is so often the case this time of year, the head coach raved about his quarterback. Eberflus said he has been impressed with Fields’ leadership abilities, along with his technique and footwork on the field.
Still, Fields is far from a finished product.
“He’s not where he needs to be, but this is why we have training camp,” Eberflus said. “He’s just going to keep getting better and better and better all the way to the first game.”