CHICAGO — Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields can’t wait to get the season started.
Fields can’t wait to see how an improved supporting cast sparks the offense’s productivity. He can’t wait to gauge his progress under game conditions. He can’t wait to take the test that all of Chicago and most of the NFL has been eager to put him through.
Is he, in fact, the guy for the Bears, a star on the rise who can return one of the league’s charter franchises to championship contention?
If Fields does as he expects and makes a significant developmental leap in his third season, Bears general manager Ryan Poles will have to consider making a substantial long-term investment next offseason to lock him in as the answer at quarterback well into the future.
But if Fields struggles? Poles might be tempted to turn the page at season’s end, seeking a new option to carry the Bears forward.
The stakes are huge. The pressure is rising. All of this creates an energizing buildup to Week 1 as the Bears prepare to host the rival Green Bay Packers on Sept. 10 at Soldier Field.
So what is Fields’ outlook for 2023? How does he feel about new wide receiver DJ Moore? And what’s next as the Bears enter the season?
Fields sat down with the Tribune for a lengthy one-on-one conversation. Here is that interview, edited for clarity and conciseness.
— Chicago Tribune: Starting on a light note, you had the opportunity recently to meet with the NFL script writers . Did they take your advice on banning quarterback sacks?
— Justin Fields: No, they didn’t. At all. Yeah, I mean, everything in that little commercial was already written for us. I felt like it was kind of low-key throwing my O-linemen under the bus a little bit. But yeah, it was a cool experience. It was like a real Hollywood set and everything.
— CT: Any thoughts on getting your legs replaced with wheels?
— JF: Nah, I’m good. I’m good on that one too.
— CT: We go into this season with a lot of curiosity on where this script will take us. When you think about realistic goals for the ways this offense can advance, what do you see happening for this group?
— JF: I think we’ve improved in a lot of areas. Of course, on the offensive line with Nate (Davis) and Darnell (Wright). With DJ (Moore), my receiver. I just think (we’ll have) more explosive pass plays and just more explosive plays, to be honest. More points up on the board.
Of course that’s what we want to see. But I do think it is realistic we can do that, especially once we get things clicking. You’ve got Chase (Claypool), you’ve got (Darnell) Mooney. We have three legitimate receivers who can make things happen. Once everything is clicking, it’s an offense that produces points.
— CT: We’ve talked all spring and summer about DJ, the instant click with you and the way that worked out. What makes him so special as a receiver, and on top of that, what makes him click within this system?
— JF: He’s smart. That’s one. And the way he can track the football when it’s in the air (is special). He’s good with using his body to where he’ll have either late hands (in catching the ball) or he’s good with shielding corners using his body.
And then on every play he tries to score. That’s the mindset he has. You saw it in the last game (against the Buffalo Bills) on that catch (over the middle). Boom. I didn’t even know he was still going after that. I’m thinking he was tackled. Then I look up and see him running.
It’s just that mindset he has where he is trying to score on every play. That’s going to be good for us in trying to get more yards and get down the field closer to the end zone.
— CT: How invigorating and calming is it to have a guy you can throw to where you complete two balls to him in the preseason and they’re for 100 yards?
— JF: Makes my job easy. But it’s really no surprise when you see him do what he does in practice. Even today, he made two crazy catches back to back. It’s awesome having a guy like that.
— CT: You said in the spring he has easy body language for a quarterback to read. Defensive backs keep saying it’s hard to read him because he is so late in giving them a tell on when the ball’s coming. How do you describe that, and is there a specific example for how you have that natural click with him in that regard?
— JF: Even today on a corner route, he just used a double-up at the top. Of course I know what route he’s running. So when he gives me a certain stick at the top of a route, it’s telling me when to let that ball go. But it’s hard for DBs because some receivers, when they change direction, they usually rise up. And that tells the DB that he’s slowing down and he’s about to change direction.
But DJ most of the time stays at the same level. And then he tempos his speed within routes. So on a go-ball, for example, he won’t be running full speed. He’ll be running probably 90% and then he has another gear that he can kick into. It’s little finesse stuff like that where it’s natural with him.
The first time I ever threw with him, I couldn’t really read him because I didn’t know he was not running full speed. Then he just kicked into a second gear. So I would say it’s the tempo with his speed within routes. That’s what makes him savvy. Then he’s also just smart with his understanding of coverages.
— CT: You’ve come a long way in your relationship with (offensive coordinator) Luke Getsy, and he’s talked a lot about how much more advanced the conversations can be now because of your understanding of the offense. What have you come to appreciate in Year 2 about the way you guys can collaborate on where you want this to go and how to put it together?
— JF: It’s just me understanding the offense more and him giving me the reins. I think Mooney said something the other day about me being able to control our two-minute drills in practice. Luke will just have that be on me. So he’ll just call the first play and then we’re on the ball and he’ll just leave it up to me on what plays I want to call.
Then even before a drive, like in the last game, he was just asking me what pass plays I like. Boom, what I want to run. I told him ‘This play. This play. This play.’ And he ran all of them. So it’s just that trust between us. The biggest thing is just that trust between each other and him knowing I’m going to take care of the ball, make a good decision and not hurt the team.
I definitely have a better understanding of the offense. That just allows us to have those new conversations and more in-depth conversations.
— CT: One of the things he said in a team meeting and has expressed on the side as well is that this is going to be a roller coaster. You’ve ridden it, everybody has ridden it. But as a group, you guys have to ride that roller coaster with the attitude of, ‘We got this (bleep).’ Those were his words. As the guy who’s in control of that, how do you see that responsibility of being able to create that comfort, the command, the confidence among the group?
— JF: Just show that. No matter how it’s going, no matter if it’s good or bad, just be the leader for the guys. Everybody’s going to be looking my way no matter if it’s going good or bad. So it’s just being the leader vocally with my body language and being cool, calm, collected on the field and being there for everybody. It’s continuously picking up everybody if something’s not going our way. That’s where I come in.
— CT: You said something during camp about how it’s more natural in a game setting for that “juice” to come out of you. It’s always in there but it comes out more in games. How do you describe the difference that game day brings?
— JF: It’s just been playing with it to be honest. I’ve tried to let other guys try to be those juice guys to where I am the cool, calm and collected me. Robert Tonyan has talked about this and he told me that I didn’t really need to be the juice guy on the offense. I needed to be locked in. I have to be locked in intensely and know what everybody’s doing. Get everybody on the same page.
But it’s really just making sure everybody’s on their P’s and Q’s when it comes to running plays and making sure we’re on the same page. And if somebody’s not picking it up, then it’s my job to get on them and make sure that they pick up the tempo.
It’s just situationally. You pick and choose where you want to be that guy. Like I said earlier, you don’t always have to be the juice guy. You don’t always have to be getting everybody up, rowdy Roddy and stuff like that.
— CT: Even before last year started, you talked about how there’s a sincere disdain for losing within you. How did you cope with 10 losses in a row, 14 losses for the season and trying to get your brain around not letting that become the norm?
— JF: For me, just with life in general, I feel like I’ve had a lot of ups and downs throughout my career and I don’t know. I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason. I just have so much faith in God to where it’s like I don’t let things stress me out as much as I used to. I just kind of give my best and as long as I know I did my best, as long as I know I prepared the best I can, then whatever happens happens at the end of the day. But of course, yeah, I do hate losing more than I like winning.
— CT: Ryan Poles talked all offseason about developing a championship mindset. We talked about this when training camp started about the whole team figuring out what that means. What signs do you see with Week 1 here that the championship mindset is building?
— JF: It’s our everyday (approach) and the guys we have on our team. The mindset everybody has. The first game — playing Green Bay — that’s an opportunity to start this off on the right foot. That’s an opportunity to make a statement to where the season’s going to go. Of course, we haven’t beat them in a while. So it’ll be good to start the year off strong with them, getting that win and just continuing to get better from there. I’m excited for it.
— CT: You said something in July about walking into the stadium knowing you’re going to win rather than having that mindset. Right?
— JF: Yeah, it’s knowing that you’re going to win or expecting to win rather than just hoping to win like I felt like we were doing my rookie year. I felt like some games we were just hoping to win or hoping the game was close.
— CT: We’re in this world now where quarterback play is under a microscope. It has been analyzed for centuries, obviously. But it’s now so public. Everybody — amateur analysts, pro analysts — they’re is taking every snap and analyzing it. What do you make of how hyperscrutinized every snap you take is in the public forum?
— JF: I don’t look at it, to be honest. I deleted Twitter. I don’t have Twitter. … It’s just best not to look at that stuff. I honestly feel like there are people in this world where they just want to hate on you or they want to criticize every little thing you do. “Well, he could have done this better. Yeah, it was a touchdown, but …” So it’s just best to not even look at that stuff.
— CT: Along those lines, when you want to get yourself a really honest, critical assessment of where you are as a quarterback, who are the people you go to?
— JF: I’d say the people in this building. They know what it’s supposed to look like. They know the conversations that go into the room with the read (on a play) and stuff like that. And myself, to be honest, I know what I could do better.
I know I have an expectation for myself where I have to do everything. I know, I guess, what my ceiling is and how good I can be. So I’m really hard on myself. I know when I could be better on a day or that I might’ve not had a good day at practice or a game. So it’s just myself and the coaches.
— CT: The backup quarterback job is being talked a lot about here now because of what Tyson Bagent did in the preseason and where it’ll go. But what have you learned in your first couple of years in the league about what you need in a game week from your backup to help you prepare?
— JF: Yeah. Nate (Peterman) did this last week. It is good to have a guy like Nate in the room, a guy that’s been in multiple offenses, who has seen defenses for a lot of years. For the last preseason game, he did a thing called “Nate’s Nuggets,” and it was just a bunch of little notes he took throughout the week. He put them on a little sheet for us. I was reading it Thursday, Friday night and Saturday before the game. It’s good to have a guy to just remind you of little stuff you might forget when you’re just overwhelmed by so much other stuff.
Even on Tyson’s pick (against the Bills), he taught me something I didn’t even know — that flat defenders on that are taught to try to bump into the slant (receiver). They know, once they see somebody going into the flat, that the slant is coming right behind them. Especially in the zone defense — Cover-3 or something like that — when the flat’s going out, the flat defender’s taught to bump into the slant (route) and that’s why that pick happened.
— CT: But then that flat’s wide open.
— JF: The flat’s wide open. Exactly. So if you see that flat defender get a bunch of depth, just hit the flat (route) and then you’ll take 4 or 5 yards every time. But that was my first time ever hearing that. I didn’t know that. It was good having a guy with an experience like that on how that happened and why it happened. He was with the Raiders for a long time, and of course they played the Chiefs every year. He said that’s what the Chiefs are taught to do.
It was good hearing that and little stuff like that that I can pick up on. He has always given his 2 cents, which I love to hear. But of course the guys upstairs are going to choose a backup quarterback who they think is going to put our team in the best position to win if your No. 1 quarterback goes down. So I can’t blame them. Tyson earned his spot. From Day One, he came in and worked hard and he performed well in the preseason games, in practices. So I’m happy for him for sure.