When the Bears line up against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday Night Football, barring an unforeseen injury situation it's not going to be Justin Fields putting his body in the path of an on-rushing Aaron Donald.
It's going to be 33-year-old Andy Dalton, so the veteran needs a good grasp on the offense. The Bears saw this happening in the two weeks of on-field OTAs and three-day minicamp, as well as during the Zoom meetings held prior to OTAs.
It shouldn't be a foreign situation for Dalton because coach Matt Nagy's offense is the fourth offense he has been in the past four seasons.
"I really think that's the thing that really helps him going into this is that, it's like basically I only know one language but for those that know multiple languages and can speak in different languages, for him all's he's doing is learning what our verbiage is and now he's able to, the football side, once the ball’s snapped—what’s happening with the routes; what's happening with his feet; what's happening with timing—all of that has been pretty simple for him," Nagy said. "That goes with the experience that he has."
Dalton was in Mike McCarthy's offense in Dallas last year, in the offense Zac Taylor and Brian Callahan used the previous year with the Bengals and in 2018 was in Bill Lazor's offense with the Bengals. Now he's back with Lazor, but in Nagy's offense.
"Some of the stages that we're at right now, which is very normal for a rookie that we're going through with Justin—he's already conquered that, meaning Andy," Nagy said.
Nagy pointed to a play call on the last day of minicamp as an example.
"So now he's seeing things, like for instance today we did some two-minute (offense) and we had a play called in two-minute at the line of scrimmage and he flat-out just got to a completely different play and it worked and it got us a first down," Nagy said. "And I think that's where, you see something on defense, you get out of a play you don't really like and you get into a play that you like and then you convert it, there's a lot of ownership there.
"And it's easy for him. That's natural. That's not something that we sit there and applaud him 100 times a day because he did it. That's supposed to happen. So the offense, he has completely. He really has it down."
Dalton said he already had begun trying to understand the offense before OTAs even began.
"Fortunately, having been around I think this is my seventh coordinator of my 11 years," Dalton said. "I know how to adjust to a new offense.
"So to start from the beginning, I was trying to make sure I was on the same page, making sure that if I had any questions to reach out so that when we got to this time of year I wasn’t having to get so many questions answered and see how things were going."
Nagy saw Dalton even trying to get players coached up on the offense at minicamp.
"I think it really is impressive with how much he's digested this playbook already and now he's doing it with these players," Nagy said. "So every rep we get for those guys is just valuable."
-Matt Nagy on Andy Dalton
Dalton also had an edge learning it because he knew Lazor well.
"It's been great being back with Bill," he said. "That's a big reason I wanted to be here. Because of Bill and just the experiences we've had together."
Dalton moved beyond the offense to a stage where the Bears say he is telling them what plays or parts of the offense he likes and doesn't. This is what they did last year with Nick Foles and Mitchell Trubisky to some extent. It's where they want to see Fields eventually get, but for now Fields is watching, learning and asking questions rather than telling people what he likes.
"We knew going into this that Andy is very open," Nagy said. "He's also opinionated in a good way because he's had a bunch of experience. He's done a lot of this, but then he'll give his opinions on how he sees things as well.
"So I think now it’s just trying to come to us and tell us what he likes and doesn’t like and now we fit all of that together."
Then, they have to believe the Rams defense won't be able to take it all apart.