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Inside Justin Fields' Development

Improvement in Justin Fields' game have been at a fundamental level and not always obvious, says quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo.

It's easy to look at the numbers and determine Justin Fields hasn't developed at a rapid pace.

It would be a stretch to call his rookie year a success but to label it a failure would be jumping to conclusions based on a calculator.

A passer rating of 73.5 is not at Mitchell Trubisky's rookie level. Fields' 12 fumbles are second only to Kyler Murray's 13. The Bears are 2-8 in games he has started. He's learned the limitations for any running quarterback in the NFL with broken ribs and an ankle injury.

There has been improvement, however. His passer rating and yards per attempt (6.9) are well above where he started early this year.

More importantly, there are improvements at the fundamental level where quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo operates. It is here where real long-term quality play is achieved.

"I think just some of things, obviously, things that you see on the field first and foremost, is for everyone to see is his decisiveness," DeFilippo said. "His decisiveness on throwing the football and then his decisiveness on when to take off and run."

Perhaps it can be called a better awareness of situation, but DeFilippo sees this.

"I think you saw that the last few weeks he played where I don't say he played faster because he's always played fast but there was a decisiveness to his decision-making when taking off and running the football," DeFilippo said.

When Nick Foles came in and the passing attack looked better than it had for weeks, it resulted from the ball going out in time. Fields had been criticized at times for holding onto the ball too long while going through his progressions and even at Ohio State this was something he struggled to overcome.

DeFilippo sees an overall improvement in this area, though.

"You see him playing much more on time," DeFilippo said.

A number bearing this out is the sacks per time Fields dropped back to pass. Over his last four games it was 8% but over the previous four games it had been 11.6%.

His earlier efforts were skewed by the disaster in Cleveland during his first start, when the Browns unleashed every form of blitz imaginable and sacked him nine times.

Hidden Improvement

Other improvements are less obvious to untrained eyes.

"It's gonna sound technical," DeFilippo warned. "I like his upper-body movement in the pocket. The way he remains a passer. It's something that he’s really worked on hard.

"You saw it on display. I don't remember the exact play, but I just remember last game he was sliding to his left and kept his left shoulder in and delivered a strike. I don't want to say he couldn’t do that when we got him, because he could, but it's something that we've really tried to work on."

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This was obvious on several passes he completed moving to his left, like the go-ahead TD pass he threw to Darnell Mooney against Pittsburgh late in the game.

DeFilippo even sees some improvement or better awareness of protecting the football, even if Fields is tied for second in the league in fumbles.

"You've seen a young man that understands that he needs to continue to respect the football in terms of when he's running the football and high and tight and tucking it away and those things, and then the things that only I myself and the guys that are around the quarterback see, just his everyday preparation and understanding what it takes to play at this level," DeFilippo said.

Fields fumbling and being beaten up the way he is now could be rectified merely by keeping him confined to the pocket and drilling into his head not to leave. 

It seemed the Bears did this with Mitchell Trubisky because from 2018 to 2019, he suddenly decided he was not running and would buy time with his feet while waiting for receivers downfield to get open. It didn't work, either because Trubisky never saw when they were getting open or they didn't -- or both -- and then the blocking broke down.

They don't want to take this ability to use 4.4-second speed in the 40 from Fields

"It's a fine line," DeFillipo said. "You never want to take this guy's athleticism away from him. You never want to make a quarterback a robot."

So they coach Fields on possessing the ball better, holding it tighter, judging better when to get out of bounds or when to slide both to his left and right in the pocket or to the ground while running.

For a former baseball player, Fields did appear to have more than his share of awkward slides earlier in the season.

"I think over the course of time, something as simple as less awkward slides, we’ve gotten better there," DeFilippo said. "I think we’d all agree to that, right?"

Time of the Essence

Overall, Bears coaches are battling one thing as they try to mold a young quarterback by improving the little aspects comprising Fields' overall  game.

"The impatience of people wanting this to happen right now, but it's the little things that continue to get better and better and better and better," DeFilippo said.

Patience is not something coaches can afford when their jobs are on the line, the way this staff's appears to be.

There is no certainty Fields will play again this year because of his ankle injury, although coach Matt Nagy said he does not think injured reserve should come into play.

If Fields can't get back to face the Giants or Minnesota, the patience may need to be displayed by the next group of coaches.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven