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Justin Fields: Bears' Strategic Football Weapon

Bears coach Matt Nagy says he's trying to blend the development of quarterback Justin Fields as a rookie backup in with the strategic use of a gifted athlete and passer while keeping Andy Dalton as current starter.

The term Bears coach Matt Nagy uses in relation to quarterback Justin Fields is strategic.

The decision to use him the way they are now is a strategic decision made prior to the season and the way they use him on a weekly basis is strategic bases on the opponent and situation.

"It's all been a part of the plan, you know, and I think that's where, again, this isn't rushed, emotional decisions that happen a week before the game," Nagy said. "This stuff has been talked about and known for a little while now and obviously we're not going to get into a whole lot of schematics in training camp and the offseason.

"But when you have a plan, you kind of know where you're at. It doesn't mean it's always going to work that way but what it does mean is it at least gives you a blueprint to start with, you know? And I think that is where we feel comfortable with it."

The Bears put Fields in five plays against the Rams and Nagy has said they'll continue using him the same way without expanding the role yet. How and at what point they insert their QB1-A in games for Andy Dalton gets discussed thoroughly.

"Yeah, I would say probably the biggest thing is schematically," Nagy said. "Do we want to use him? If we do, how is that and when it the best place to do it?

"The nice thing about Justin is you've got somebody that is special with making throws, too. So many times you see guys that come in and sometimes they're just running quarterbacks and that sort of thing so he can become a weapon that way, too, and allow him to grow each week in practice but yet still try to find times when we feel like it can be advantageous to us to use him in certain roles."

Fields dove in for a 3-yard touchdown on option play against the Rams to get the Bears within 20-14 in a 34-14 loss.

HOW JUSTIN FIELDS' FIRST START COULD HINGE ON BEARS-BENGALS GAME

"He made a good play for the touchdown run and we had some other plays in too that, you know, we didn't get to," Nagy said. "For us, I think he's going to continue to grow and we just have to find spots for him."

Forcing Opponents prepare for Justin Fields

The benefits can go beyond Fields' speed as a runner and strong, accurate arm. All of this requires the opposition take time out of the practice week to address, and time is limited and valuable in the practice week.

"Inevitably what it does is it makes when you have a guy like Justin, teams when they see that, now they have to prepare in certain ways for certain things–things they may think of or not think of. It just can help us that way too."

Nagy knows there will be strategy from other coaches about how to stop this sort of gadget aspect of the Bears offense, as well.

"And then for the scheme and for the team, we got to see how it goes, how it works and then how defenses are reacting to it. What's their plan to it?" he said. "And then we got to have a counter to it."

It becomes a cat-and-mouse game distracting from the preparation to play the Bears.

At least two plays Fields ran seemed to work well: The TD run and his 9-yard completion to Marquise Goodwin to put the Bears in a third-and-1 at the 3-yard line. They managed to foul up the second situation with a false start on Cole Kmet and then an interception of Dalton in the end zone on a deflection.

Nagy acknowledged the possible dangers to this use of a backup quarterback. Obviously there is injury. Another is it can disrupt the starter's rhythm.

"I didn't think it affected my rhythm at all and I was able to ho right back in there and continue out there," Dalton said.

That was just one game and five entries into the game.

"It does create an advantage but you also have to be careful with the rhythm not just with a guy like Andy, breaking his rhythm, but also a guy like Justin making sure that it can help him too," Nagy said.

Developing Fields

By this, Nagy is talking about development. The Bears are not doing this only to win the game at hand. The goal with Fields remains development, so it is a dual-purpose program.

"It would be in that instance more of strategic for the game," Nagy said. "But at the same time, you want to try to help him too by getting him some of those snaps.

"That's where I think you got to be to a point where you're careful with the success or failure that you have with those plays. Because if you put him in and it's one play, depending on how it goes, you don't want multiple plays of it not being good because it could mess with their mentality. If you have positive plays and you have a touchdown like he had and it helps the team, then those are good because it's a building block for him to get under the lights, which we've talked about before."

It sounds as if the Bears are trying hard to protect Fields with the emphasis on positive plays while limiting exposure to difficult situations.

"So I think there's growth for him on the side, but I also think it helps our offense," Nagy said.

Part of the plan remains letting Fields play with the scout team against the first-team Bears defense. In theory, this should help him because the Bears defense was a challenge for any quarterback prior to the start of this season. Whether this still is the case after they gave up 34 points and repeated big plays against the Rams is debatable.

"He's done a really good job in scout team, the look team, all last week and then even the week we had before," Nagy said. "He's making some of those special throws. That doesn't mean he's always torturing our defense. There might be one where he has to scramble and it would've been a sack but he's finishing a play and makes a good throw -- others where he is making really good throws.

"When we all talk about the growth of Justin and where he's at, if it's not on game day, then are we being able to see him grow in practice with those types of throws? He's doing that right now. That's a positive. We like that. We want more of that."

Where It All Leads

Still, other quarterbacks start from Day 1 and succeed. The quarterback the Bears face this week, Joe Burrow, is one. He had a season-ending injury last year but showed promise then, and in Week 1 this season he went 20 for 26 for 261 yards with two TDs.

Nagy sees this as a joint venture, building for the day when Fields can do what Burrow does and letting the team find a way to use him now before he's actually ready—even if offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said on Wednesday their rookie QB has been ready since preseason.

"Every snap he gets, it helps him for the future," Nagy said. "Then, being on the sideline, those are going to help him.

"But we can help him also with practice and what he's doing there. I think each week he's going to get better and better in a lot of different things."

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