Justin Fields Has Goals Before Being QB1

No real competition will take place between the quarterbacks in training camp, although Justin Fields can go a long way toward showing Matt Nagy he'll be ready when the time does come.
Author:
Publish date:

The biggest Bears starting battle isn't even a contest.

Coach Matt Nagy has decided not to allow Justin Fields to compete with Andy Dalton. It's more of a case of everyone practicing and Fields being educated than it is anyone battling for a starting position.

As our look at all the battles for starting positions in training camp ends with this biggest one of all, it's a real letdown for Bears fans to know the one they care most about will not really materialize.

They will be teased with Fields in preseason games, which are only elevated versions of practices. He'll be facing vanilla defensive schemes and throwing against backup players. These will really not be related to when Fields plays.

"There will be a process and a plan," Nagy said. "We will stick to that. That plan is not going to change tomorrow. The plan is not going to change in training camp."

The order of succession has been established with Dalton first, Fields second and Nick Foles third. 

Camp is like watching a pro wrestling match. The outcome is already known.

"But all three of those guys know that you need to produce, you need to play well, you need to compete, you need to be the best quarterback you can be and then it's going to be really pretty easy for us to see who that is and how that goes," Nagy said.

Of course it should be easy when everyone knows the outcome.

About the best Fields can do is learn, show coaches he'll be ready when and if the opportunity does come. 

The one quality Fields needs to have while learning is patience. He has to be patient with this process coaches have chosen and avoid frustration at all cost.

There are three factors determining when Fields eventually makes his regular-season debut and they don't have a single thing to do with the QB "battle" in camp or preseason.

1. Andy Dalton's Success

The first one is whether Andy Dalton is playing well. If he comes out in the regular season resembling the accurate passer he seemed in Dallas last year when he recorded his highest completion percentage since 2015, then it's one step toward the Bears keeping Fields in the background.

The accuracy Dalton had might have been the result of playing in a Dallas offense loaded with more weapons than the Bears possess, although he constantly faced severe pass rush pressure due to a rash of offensive line injuries. It also might have resulted from Mike McCarthy's offensive system. McCarthy could always coach an effective offense even though his defensive knowledge has to be questioned. It also might have been the result of checking everything down, because Dalton appeared unwilling to go downfield. His average yards per pass attempt was the lowest of his 10-year career even with all of those offensive weapons.

The Bears will want more from Dalton than 6.5 yards per pass attempt even if he is accurate. He never has been one to completely avoid interceptions. His interception percentage for 10 years is 2.6, barely better than Mitchell Trubisky's 2.7. So he'll need to get something done with the throws.

Whether Dalton has absorbed the offense in camp properly shouldn't be a question. If it is, the Bears have real problems. He's working with an offensive coordinator whom he has known since 2016, so he'd better know what's going on.

2. Winning

Even if Dalton succeeds in putting up good numbers, it might not mean the Bears are winning. The defense could have injuries or defensive coordinator Sean Desai might not be what the Bears hoped. The Bears could lose even with high point output. They might simply catch bad breaks and lose several tight games at the end.

If they're winning, you'll not see Fields until the end of the year if then.

The chances of this happening with Dalton don't seem great. His teams have had a .377 winning percentage when he starts over the last five years. He was successful earlier, and if the Bears put a running game and great defense together then Dalton might prolong his stay at No. 1.

Last year the Bears started 5-1 and then had a six-game losing streak. They had a four-game losing streak the year before, and both of those streaks came during the toughest sections of their schedule. It looks on the surface from this as if Nagy's teams don't handle adversity well, that they don't bounce back quickly from defeat.

The same type of schedule awaits them this year with a very difficult stretch coming in Week 6 and running through Week 11: Green Bay, Tampa Bay, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Baltimore in succession. If they struggle with a losing streak then, it could be where Dalton is out. If they don't gain enough wins prior to this, he might be out.

Either way, Dalton's not losing the starting spot in camp and isn't losing the job if he wins games.

3. Matt Nagy's Tolerance for Losing

Even if Dalton is losing, Fields would be sidelined until Nagy says he's had enough.

The national narrative seems to be Nagy is on the hot seat based on what Bears ownership said at the end of last season. It could be true, but unless his team goes through a complete collapse it would seem a coach who hasn't had a losing record and made the playoffs two of his first three years could be given a little leeway.

So if Dalton starts losing, it's going to require the last push of the button from Nagy to get Fields on the field, and whether he does it depends on his tolerance for losses.

This might result from how Nagy envisions his own job status. 

Four years ago we saw a similar approach play out with John Fox and they hit his tolerance level at four weeks.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven