Justin Fields flashed a lot of his potential in 2021. It wasn’t always pretty. Still, people remember the biggest highlights. Everything from his bombing of the Lions at Soldier Field to his incredible scramble against the 49ers. His athletic talent is off the chart. It was frustrating to see the Chicago Bears 1st round pick struggle in most other aspects of his position. People seemed to focus the most on his processing speed.
Part of playing quarterback in the NFL is being able to read defenses pre-snap and post-snap. The best ones can recognize when a receiver is covered and quickly move on to the next option. Too often last year, it felt like Fields had a bad habit of lingering on his first read, holding the ball. That led to unnecessary hits, sacks, and fumbles. He hadn’t yet learned the importance of timing and rhythm in the passing game.
That isn’t his fault.
Plenty of college quarterbacks don’t learn that. They never have to. They rely on a mixture of their exceptional talent and going against weaker defenses in college, so it’s unnecessary. Elite blockers and weapons surrounded Fields at Ohio State. He could hold the ball quite often without worrying about the pass rush and took off running whenever it managed to get close. Such luxuries don’t exist in the NFL. Everybody is good on this level.
So Fields had to adapt. Everything about his process needed speeding up. Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy adjusted his footwork while quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko helped shorten his throwing motion. Then it became a matter of teaching him how to operate within the pocket, trusting his feet to take him through progressions. Based on recent video clips from training camp, progress has been made.
— Clay Harbor (@clayharbs82) August 11, 2022
Note how often Fields gets the ball out when he hits his back step.
There are fewer instances of taking an extra hitch or two waiting for the open man. He hits the end of his drop and the ball comes out. Even more encouraging is his willingness to take more check-downs. He isn’t constantly seeking the big play. When the defense isn’t giving him a look he wants, Fields gets it to the running backs. Head coach Matt Eberflus singled out his quarterback for those reasons after practice.
“The offense came out really well. We had that red zone, then we backed him up to the high red, the fringe area, and I thought they operated really good. His timing is getting better and it’s really, for him, that’s really good because how do you get the timing down with different receivers? For him to be able to do that, that shows a lot, to me. We’re excited where he is on that front, for sure.”
Justin Fields is becoming a more complete player.
That should be terrifying for the rest of the NFL. He is already a nightmare for opposing defenses to game plan against. Not only does he boast a big arm with excellent deep accuracy, but he also has 4.41 speed as a runner. His versatility puts so much pressure on opponents to cover every part of the field. If he’s able to learn how to play from the pocket with his eyes? There may be nothing anybody can do to stop him.
He must still prove it in actual games. That is always the big test. Still, to see him doing this against the Bears defense with several of his offensive weapons nursing injuries is impressive. His camp hasn’t been spectacular, but the improvements are impossible to ignore. This doesn’t feel like the blind optimism days of Mitch Trubisky, Rex Grossman, and other 1st round picks. Justin Fields looks like what a potential franchise QB should, and he gets a little better each day.