Rob Oller | Save the date: Fields will win over Chicago as franchise QB Bears have needed
For Chicago, Justin Fields is the blind date you describe to a girl who doesn’t know him.
How exactly to paint the rookie quarterback to Bears fans who want information on what they’re getting?
He’s dependable, but has his moments. Comes off super serious in public, but loosens up in smaller groups.
Spending four days in Chicago listening to Bears fans fawn and fret over the No. 11 draft choice out of Ohio State offered an interesting glimpse into a pending marriage between a quarterback Buckeye Nation knows fairly well and a Windy City fan base wanting any morsel of information about their potential franchise savior.
Strong arm. Deceptively fast.
Tell us more.
Physically tough. Played his best in the biggest games.
Is that it?
Well, he looked confused against Indiana and Northwestern, but no one is perfect.
It is somewhat surreal to spend time in a city that knows so little about a player who Dispatch writers watched throw 579 passes at Ohio State and listened to during dozens of interviews. It’s almost like the Bears are getting a repurposed gift with a shiny new bow. We know what he did in the Horseshoe, but what can he do in Soldier Field?
It is human nature to speak highly of a player going from here to there, unless that player was a royal pain in the neck, which Fields was not. But Chicago has been burned so badly by disastrous dates with quarterbacks that the city is desperate to finally get it right. In that way, the Bears and Cleveland Browns are not so different, neither showing prowess at quarterback the past 3½ decades.
The Browns may have found their man in Baker Mayfield (I remain slightly suspicious). Da Bears? Fans think Fields finally could be “the one.”
Here is columnist Dan Wiederer writing in the Chicago Tribune on Sunday after two days of rookie-camp practices: “Bears fans are growing antsier by the day, dealing with a combination of giddiness, curiosity and impatience that is borderline unhealthy.”
My boots-on-the-ground observation about what Chi-town expects from Fields? You would think the Buckeyes' two-year starter is related to Sid Luckman, for how often the two quarterbacks are mentioned in the same breath. Luckman — or in the case of one young Bears fan I encountered “That dude from the 1940s” — was the last Chicago quarterback considered by Bears fans to have been a franchise QB. The Pro Football Hall of Famer, who died in 1998, is considered the best deep ball passer of his era (1939-50).
I thought Chicago would extend more love to Jim McMahon, the headband-wearing, head-banging quarterback of the mid-1980s who was front and center on the 1985 team that won the Super Bowl. But Bears fans are discerning enough to realize what made the ’85 team great had more to do with defense and Walter Payton than with McMahon.
Regardless, Fields is being counted on to become something akin to Luckman, including matching his deep-ball ability.
“When you have those deep-type plays and those quick strikes, you eliminate third downs and that red-zone pressure,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said Saturday, marveling at Fields’ arm strength after only two days of practice.
No question Chicago could use more of a deep-threat passing game, which has been a sore spot for decades. The Bears thought they solved the problem with Jay Cutler, but his upside (strong arm) was shaved low by too many downsides. Fans hoped Mitch Trubisky, drafted No. 2 overall in 2017, would be the answer. But the pick was deemed a reach from Day 1, and Trubisky never did enough to overcome those raised eyebrows. He signed a one-year deal with Buffalo in March to back up Josh Allen.
Now Fields gets a chance, though not right away. The Bears are banking on him learning under Andy Dalton the way Patrick Mahomes studied under Alex Smith for a year in Kansas City. The Chicago front office will feel pressure to play Fields sooner than later, especially if Dalton struggles early next season, but Ohio State coach Ryan Day explained last month that both the Bears and Fields would benefit from the rookie watching and learning for a year.
That may not sit well with Bears fans who want Fields to be the ring on the finger they dream about, but I predict the wait will be worth it. This guy is a keeper.