Chicago is buzzing with excitement following Justin Fields' performance in the preseason opener. The rookie looked calm, collected, and displayed the extraordinary element he brings to the offense with his mobility.
Despite calls for Fields to leapfrog Andy Dalton and immediately begin the 2021 season as the Bears' starting QB, coach Matt Nagy is sticking to the plan. Dalton will be the Week 1 starter.
Monday morning, Nagy reiterated his stance that Dalton is QB1 with Fields remaining the backup heading into Saturday's second preseason game versus the Buffalo Bills.
"It is the case," Nagy said of Dalton remaining the starter. "And I think for us to focus on the day by day and just everything that goes into it. The only thing that those guys care about right now is just being great at that position and if you ask all three of them, and that's what they're trying to do. And I'll always go back to when we evaluate those guys at that position, we're evaluating the entire package. I think Andy had six plays. It's hard to say much good or bad about that with six plays. We're going to get him some more snaps this coming preseason game. And with Justin, I go back to what I said too, we want to be able to see live plays, live situations, he got that. The only thing he can do is to continue doing that and we have to make sure that plan allows us to evaluate how well he does knowing those circumstances. Ultimately, in the end, whatever is best for the Chicago Bears is in the end what we're going to do."
It's the time of year when NFL coaches adhere to their offseason plan, insisting on not overreacting to one preseason performance. Nagy is sticking to that script.
Along with Nagy noting that Dalton will get additional reps this week, the team also wants to see Fields work more with Allen Robinson and the starters.
"I think that that's real," he said when asked the value of getting Fields reps with the starters. "I think you need to look into that, you need to be able to see, OK, not only so much to see that within the players, because he gets some of that in practice right now, he's getting some of that. But also it would be good to see what he does versus the first-team defense. When you combine both of those together, that's again kind of the evaluation process. There's zero scheming going on right now in the preseason, zero. There's not a lot of tape watched. There's plays that are called to see if people can win 1-on-1s. Can they or can't they? That's that balance of trying to figure that out. We want to see the strength of these players when they're playing. So, yes, I'd say a little bit of that with his own players and also who he's playing against."
Watching Fields, it's understandable the palpable excitement from Bears fans, who have long pined for a franchise star under center. The rookie, who said after the outing the NFL game was actually slower for him than anticipated, displayed poise and elite arm talent. His athletic ability offers an element of elusiveness and playmaking Nagy's offense lacked.
It's easy for coaches to ignore fan excitement or media calls for young players to play. However, there is a different element when players within the locker room start to question why a rookie is riding the pine. Nagy, who was on the Chiefs' staff when Patrick Mahomes sat almost his entire rookie season, insisted that won't be an issue in Chicago.
"No, because it's expected," he said. "You got to play the situation and just understand, the excitement is there. I'll go back to we all want him to play really well. That's a good thing, is for him to go out and play well. At the same point in time, we knew going into this that in this situation, any time there's something that goes wrong for a guy like Andy in this situation, that that's going to be there if Justin's playing well. But no, this is something that we've planned for, prepared for, and again, Justin understands all of this, and that's what I love about him. He understands the plan. He understands the process. They all do. We asked him to go out and play well on game day live."
It's only a matter of time before Fields overtakes Dalton. Until then, Nagy will continue to take a patient approach.
If Fields flashes again in the second preseason game, pressure will ratchet up on Nagy to scrap the plan. Even if Dalton plays Week 1 in L.A., sooner or later, Fields will take center stage in Chicago.