Many around the NFL are doubting what Justin Fields can accomplish this season as quarterback of the Bears.
The reasons are obvious: The receivers may be the worst group in the league, the offensive line is suspect at best, and Fields — while wildly talented and exceptionally fast — remains in Football 101 when it comes to reading defenses and coverages.
None of these factors concern teammate David Montgomery, however. The Bears’ veteran running back believes that by December or January everyone will be muttering:”How did we not see that coming? This guy is a STUD.”
“I told ya’ll once before I’m not gonna be surprised when Justin (comes) out and shocks the world,” Montgomery told WBBM 780-AM after the Bears’ final preseason game in Cleveland. “When it comes that time for ya’ll to revisit it, ya’ll gonna be like, ‘All right. You (were) right.’”
For many — including me — this seems like pure fantasy.
After all, how is Fields going to post Patrick Mahomes-like numbers when he’s throwing to some combination of Darnell Mooney, Byron Pringle, Velus Jones Jr., Equanimeous St. Brown, Dante Pettis, N’Keal Harry (once he’s healthy) and tight end Cole Kmet?
Yes, Mooney (81 catches, 1,055 yards last season) is a nice receiver. And, yes, many expect a breakout season from Kmet (60-612). But Pringle and Jones have been injured during most of camp, Brown has shown absolutely nothing and Pettis is a journeyman with 52 catches in four seasons.
So hasn’t GM Ryan Poles set Fields up to fail? It appears so, but let’s take the glass-half-full approach for a moment:
- First-year offensive coordinator Luke Getsy seems to understand how to take advantage of Fields’ skill set. Watch for the Bears to establish a strong running game, work in plenty of rollouts and wide receiver screens, and also surprise teams with medium to deep passes down the middle to guys like Kmet and Brown.
- The Bears’ schedule offers plenty of opportunities to take advantage of weak defenses. Fields and company could easily feast upon the likes of the Texans (Game 3), Giants (Game 4), Washington (Game 6), Lions (Games 10 and 16), Falcons (Game 11) and Jets (Game 12). There are question marks surrounding the Vikings (Games 5 and 17) and Patriots (Game 7) as well.
- Fields has become much more comfortable as a runner, which should scare of defensive coordinators. Fields averaged 56 rushing yards over his last seven games in 2021, which is an 877-yard pace over a full season. Fields was a beast against the Niners in Week 8 (10 carries, 103 yards) and the Packers in Week 13 (9 for 74) — although the Bears lost both games. Fields must hang on to the ball better, however, as he fumbled 12 times (losing 5, all in his last six contests).
“I’ve seen exactly what he can do. He’s gonna shine for sure,” Mooney said. “He’s gonna blossom. He’s gonna prove everything that everybody doubted him on — especially Week 1. That team (the 49ers) passed on him (in the draft). So they’re gonna have to pay a little bit for that.”
Defensive end Robert Quinn agreed.
“There’s a lot more confidence knowing it’s his show (and) he’s the guy we’re looking at. Everyone else is embracing it around him, making sure they do their jobs but (also) helping him be successful as well. It’s a joint thing. Everyone’s gotta do their part.”
Ideally, Fields shows improvement most weeks and looks like a potential superstar down the road.
Have no illusions, though: There will be struggles and many will want to deem Fields a bust after one or two wretched performances.
The Bears feel good enough about Fields that they named him as one of four team captains Wednesday even though he’s only entering his second season. The other captains are Cody Whitehair (seventh year), Robert Quinn (12th year) and Roquan Smith (fifth year).
“Just taking every step that we’ve asked him to take,” said coach Matt Eberflus when asked why Fields was chosen. “He’s a guy that works with others and wants to soak in everything and has gotten better.
“He’s done it through his work ethic. He’s obviously very intelligent, which helps him along the way. He’s been a great teammate.”
Soon we’re going to find out if he can be a great quarterback.