Justin Fields isn’t starting for the Chicago Bears. A fact that by itself continues to infuriate fans and media alike. That doesn’t mean head coach Matt Nagy left his prized rookie out in the cold. He has a plan. Part of it was executed in the opener against the Los Angeles Rams. One where Fields took five snaps during the game, throwing two passes, giving two handoffs, and running the ball himself once.
This is not the approach a lot of people expected. They saw one of two scenarios. Either Dalton starts and plays every snap or Fields does. No in-between. The Bears have shattered that notion. Not only did that sprinkle the rookie into the game plan last week, but it sounds like this is something they will continue to do moving forward. The idea is to get him experience without putting the burden of the entire game on his shoulders yet.
Is Nagy crazy to do it this way? Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times asked around the NFL for some opinions. It surprising how many former players, star players, like the approach Chicago is taking.
“I think it’s a pretty good idea,” he said. “It’s not threatening to the team — we’re all bringing our skill set to the table to try to go 1-0 this week.”
Hasselbeck has actually seen this approach before. Back in 2011, he was named the starter for the Tennessee Titans. This despite the team drafting Jake Locker in the 1st round. During that season, the rookie would step onto the field once or twice to throw a pass in order to get some experience. By late November, he started to get more significant action. In a five-week span, he threw 64 passes for 530 yards and four touchdowns without an interception. Sadly injuries derailed Locker’s career.
Five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Steve Smith, now an NFL Network analyst, likes the idea of putting a rookie quarterback on a tangible small snap count. It’s “something you can coach up and improve,” he said.
It is interesting that Smith would say that. If anybody one would think should be in the camp of playing the rookie now, it’d be him. The receiver was present when the Carolina Panthers did that with #1 overall pick Cam Newton in 2011. He threw for over 4,000 yards and scored 35 total touchdowns. Fields is similar in both playing style and talent level.
“If you give a guy a little taste — he’s getting five plays, he’s getting 10 plays — [and] if he screws up, you can easily on Monday morning go in there and say, ‘You played bad, but we won the game,’ ’’ Thomas said. “Or, ‘You didn’t do a great job, but we can make these corrections and get you to play better.’
“You don’t destroy his confidence in five to 10 plays if he doesn’t do a good job.”
Thomas probably wishes his former team the Cleveland Browns considered this approach in years past. They took Brandon Weeden in the 1st round back in 2012. He started 15 games that year. He threw more interceptions than touchdowns during the run, a habit he would never break. Then Cleveland took Johnny Manziel in 2014. He threw just one pass through his first 11 games before finally seeing action. Last but not least was DeShone Kizer. Like Weeden, he started immediately. Also like Weeden, he struggled with too many interceptions and was benched by his second year.
The Bears seem focused on trying to get Justin Fields momentum
Getting him a couple of pass completions and a rushing touchdown accomplished that goal. Nagy even admitted the team had more plays in mind for him but wasn’t able to get to them because the game got out of hand. Now the plan moving forward is more of the same. Wait for the right moments against the Cincinnati Bengals and get the kid out there. It’ll be his first taste of action at Soldier Field during a true regular season game.
Whether Nagy can continue with this plan is may depend on the final result. The Bears are already 0-1 with the offense posting just 14 points last week. If Dalton can’t get them a win and plays poorly again? It won’t matter anymore. Everybody will shout that it’s time to start Justin Fields. If they win, then things might calm down enough to continue with this approach. If nothing else, it should be noted how many noteworthy NFL personalities think the Bears are doing the right thing.