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The Justin Fields era is upon us – now the Bears must build around him


Justin Fields had been the Bears’ permanent starting quarterback for less than 24 hours when someone asked him if he understood the gravity of it all. Wednesday was the first stop, but had he stopped to wonder what his life might be like 10 or 15 years from now?

“I don’t even know if we’ll be on this earth in the next 10 to 15 years,” he said with a smile. “I’m just worried about today and tomorrow. Just take it day to day.

His statement was the equally gruesome cousin of what 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said when asked, after drafting a quarterback in April, if starter Jimmy Garoppolo would be removed over the weekend. .

“I cannot guarantee that anyone in the world will be alive on Sunday,” he said.

Last week, Trey Lance, the 49ers quarterback drafted third overall, replaced an injured Garoppolo and threw for 157 yards and ran for 41 more. On Sunday against the Raiders, Fields will make his first appearance since coach Matt Nagy named him a clear starter.

In the NFL, the future awaits quickly.

“We have been patient with this,” Nagy said. “We grew up with him. We are proud of Justin.

Now the Bears have to build something around him – starting Sunday in Las Vegas.

They spent 101 years trying to find a quarterback who could live up to the franchise’s place in history. Now they have to spend 3 and a half months crafting an attack that satisfies their rookie passer’s potential.

That, more than anything, will dictate the future of Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace. Can Fields show steady progress from week to week, even though Nagy recognizes the “ebb and flow” that all rookies experience? Freed from having to honor Dalton as the team’s nominal starter, can Nagy create an offense during the week that plays out at scrambling speed and Fields’ prowess? On match days, can offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, the new playmaker, make the right decisions?

Sunday’s win over the Lions provided some promising clues. The Bears took Fields out of the shotgun, gave him more blockers – and told him to let it rip.

No one in Week 4 threw deeper or into more open windows than Fields against the Lions. His 12.8 aerial yards and planned 13.2 aerial yards – the distance the balloon traveled in the sky during its completions and attempts, respectively – were the best among all smugglers that week, according to NFL NextGen Stats. The deep balls are in line with what Fields did last year at Ohio State, when Pro Football Focus gave him a 96.5 rating on deep passes. The average of the quarters was 50.

In his first two starts this year, Dalton didn’t have any explosive passes – defined as passing 20 yards or more. During Games 2 and 3, Fields had one. Sunday against the Lions, he totaled five.

“Even if you don’t complete them – there are some that aren’t finished – you help your game run,” Nagy said. “You help your linemen. So when you log into it and are able to flip the field? Huge.”

It’s no coincidence that running back David Montgomery rushed for 106 yards, the sixth-highest of his career, before spraining his left knee in the fourth quarter. Damien Williams, who will take his place on Sunday, will answer an important question: was the success of the run-game more up to Montgomery or to the stratagem.

The scheme looked different with Lazor in charge. In 42 games against the Browns, Nagy shot Fields almost twice. Against the Lions, Lazor put Fields in the shotgun just 19 of 57 times.

Nagy prefers the shotgun in general and was drawn to it because it looked like what Fields ran in the state of Ohio. But he said Fields transitioned well under center; In practice, quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo tells Fields to imagine he’s standing on a clock face, then asks him for hours to follow with his feet as he backs up.

“Justin was great with it,” said Nagy, who apparently still wasn’t inspired to put him in the center.

In the first three weeks of the season, Nagy had his team play three games in a personal “13” – one wide receiver and three tight ends. In Week 3, with Lazor calling games, the Bears hosted 10 of those games. It didn’t look like the state of Ohio either.

“It’s a big difference, yeah, sure – the staff and everything,” Fields said. “But, I mean, practice. . . I got used to it over time, I repeat it with my teammates and stuff like that. When you do this so much in training, it becomes easy in games. “

The Bears have led “12” staff – one running back, two tight ends and two receivers – on 18% of their plays in Weeks 1-3. In week 4, they were on staff “12” 37% of the time. With Nagy calling plays, they were on staff “11” 74% of the time this year. Against the Lions, Lazor only led “11” staff 40% of the time.

Putting Fields below center allowed the Bears to run more “downhill.” It also helped that they had extra blockers. Tight Wings JP Holtz and Jesse James played 20 snaps against the Lions a week after combining to play one. Even backup goaltender Alex Bars played three tries as an extra tight end.

“It makes my job a lot easier, of course,” Fields said. “When the defense sees that we are in this kind of staff, they most likely think of the leak. So that definitely sets up the action game. It does a lot of advancement in the passing game.

Fields completed five assists against the Lions for 86 yards. In the first three weeks of the season, the Bears completed just 15 yards for 61 yards.

Against the Browns, Nagy only used five blockers on 28 of 33 pass attempts and called eight quick passes, per PFF. Lazor used five blockers on 12 of 20 throwbacks on Sunday and only called quick throws twice.

Nagy on Wednesday praised Lazor’s in-depth attack and its connection to the running game. It was a far cry from his awkward description of Lazor’s role following Sunday’s 24-14 victory.

“I had to say [Lazor] like five times on the helmet [Sunday], ‘Keep doing it, man. You rock and roll, ”Nagy said. “And it was awesome. And so for them to do that, he’s giving these guys a chance.

Nagy’s future depends on the Bears’ ability to continue giving Fields a chance.

Making him the starter was only the first step.

The next one is coming on Sunday.

“It will be our job now as coaches to continue to teach and help him grow as he goes along,” said Nagy. “And turn him into that NFL quarterback we know he can be.”

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