Nothing revitalizes the energy in an NFL franchise like a new quarterback. The hope that comes inherently packaged with a fresh-faced passer right out of college is enough to fill a stadium, to think greener pastures are right around the corner. And no professional football city is more prepared to adore a quarterback than perennially passer-starved Chicago.
Enter Justin Fields.
Arguably the greatest quarterback the Ohio State Buckeyes have ever produced, Fields takes the reins of the Bears with a world of expectations. Like any top pick with his sparkling resume, he’s supposed to give Chicago its first consistent modern professional offense, ever. He’s supposed to be a magnet of charisma and leadership to his coaches, teammates, and fans alike. He’s supposed to be a star. No less.
The coming weeks, months, and years will speak volumes as to Fields’ development. Whether he’ll succumb to the pressure, or rise above and metaphorically own a city.
But ask anyone in the know, and there’s no concern of failure. Fields, unlike many Bears passers in the past, seems like a walking, breathing inevitability. A safe bet dissimilar and utterly unfamiliar to unceasing failure.
I spoke to Chris Renne, a staff writer for Land-Grant Holy Land — SB Nation’s Ohio State Affiliate — and got the skinny on the Bears’ new 22-year-old prodigy. By his account, Chicago has an established collegiate legend, with a professional myth well in the making.
1.Fields shined again and again in Columbus.
67 touchdowns to nine interceptions. Two College Football Playoff berths. The epitome of a Big Game Player. How do you think Fields’ propensity to elevate his play so dramatically in one of college football’s premier locales will translate to the Bears — one of the NFL’s largest markets in a quarterback-starved city, that is quite frankly already expecting the world?
Chris Renne: Fields’ capacity to elevate his play was extremely noticeable from early on in his career. Coming to Ohio State as an SEC transfer with a first-year coach, this could have been a challenge a lot of people struggled with early, but his talent flashed immediately. Rather than hoping he was serviceable, the conversation for Fields potentially being the best quarterback in the country started from the get-go.
New situations have not phased Fields. I think what Ohio State fans were most excited about when the Bears drafted him is that Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace identified him as their possible guy and went all in for him. He’s going to a city that wants him to succeed more than anything and Fields will give that back and then some. Raising his play and raising his teammates is what he did for two years at Ohio State from start one, up until the National Title Game against Alabama.
Big moments, big games are all part of being the quarterback at Ohio State. Regardless of how the final game went in his career, it was not his fault. You can anoint him freely. All that is going to do is motivate him more to exceed the already lofty expectations.
2. For a while, the assumption was that Fields was the consensus No. 2 overall pick to the now-Jaguar Trevor Lawrence. To some, he was the 1A to Lawrence. While the Bears won’t complain, what in your mind happened over the course of this draft season that caused Fields to fall to No. 11 overall? Are there issues people aren’t highlighting enough, or was this simply a case of overthinking?
CR: Pre-draft discourse always tends to negatively affect one player and it felt like this year it was Fields. Over the pre-draft process there were a lot of people questioning his work ethic, processing skills, and judgement. If you ask anyone who has covered Ohio State we all pretty much saw the opposite of that. Fields was gracious to the media, always representing himself and Ohio State well.
When it comes to potential concerns or issues, I’d tell you to go rewatch some Ohio State games over the last couple of years and tell me what they think. Fields was accurate to all levels of the field, used his athleticism when he needed to, and was able to use touch or velocity to every level of the field on a consistent basis. The draft process worked in favor of the Bears.
Where most of the overthinking took place was with his ability to anticipate as a thrower. Two bad games in 2021 against Northwestern and Indiana stick out there. If you go back, every quarterback in the draft had a game or two where they’d want a re-do, including Mac Jones against Auburn, Trevor Lawrence against LSU, Trey Lance against Central Arkansas, and Zach Wilson against Coastal Carolina. During the draft process it seemed that most of the negatives brought up about Fields were overlooked for the other four first-round quarterbacks.
Fields is not a finished product and I by no means want to mislead anyone, but a lot of the pre-draft discourse was misguided and out of the blue. Fields is a player who will show up, work hard, no questions asked. And with his physical talent, if Matt Nagy is able to get the most out of him, he should be a successful pro for a long time.
3. What are Fields’ strengths as a quarterback? What will he do well immediately? How should Bears head coach Matt Nagy structure his offense around Fields’ skill-set?
CR: Fields’ strengths as a quarterback pop off the screen immediately — his arm talent and athleticism. Bears fans are used to a quarterback running the ball when nothing is there, but Fields did a great job of using his legs as a last resort. He is a pass-first quarterback who has the size and speed to be dangerous in the run game, if needed, which will help him early in his career.
Another aspect of his game that will translate quickly is his touch to all levels of the field. In his two years, Fields made every throw you can think of, from bombs on deep posts to consistently delivering deep comeback routes outside the numbers on the other side of the field. He can truly deliver the ball and spread it all over the field on a consistent basis, which shows with his career 68 percent completion percentage.
If Matt Nagy can take two concepts that Ohio State does and bring it to the Bear offense to help Fields, they are Levels and Mesh.
Both create confusion across the middle and allow Fields to have four reads that are directly in front of him with defined check downs. Fields is capable of delivering the ball to all parts of the Field, but one route he threw well was the deep out and comeback at around 18 yards. These two concepts are Ryan Day’s bread and butter, and the Bears with Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney should have plenty of support.
4. What are Fields’ weaknesses as a quarterback? Where might he struggle initially? What will the Bears’ offensive staff have to particularly focus on early in the course of his professional development?
CR: Fields’ weaknesses were few and far between in college, but he was not perfect like many Ohio State fans would have you believe. Anticipation was you could see he struggled with at times, but by no means was it a red flag. There were occasions where he locked into reads and tried to force throws into windows that weren’t there. Fields has shown he can throw receivers open, but he does prefer to see a receiver open over throwing one open.
The other place Fields might struggle is forcing the issue. See the Indiana game as an example with his interceptions. As gifted as he is physically, Fields would press a little too much and pay for it. Rather than taking what was there he forced a few throws that you could tell he regretted. Nagy and the offensive staff need to get Fields comfortable throwing the football away and living to see another day.
Extremely rare video of Justin Fields throwing an interception pic.twitter.com/hhUbkndqb5— Unnecessary Roughness (@UnnecRoughness) November 21, 2020
Those two videos above show the weaknesses that rarely reared their ugly heads. That 67 touchdown to nine interception ratio speaks for itself. Most of his mistakes came when he tried making something special happen. If he threw the ball away or used his legs they probably could have been avoided.
Early in Fields’ career, I think Nagy and the staff will absolutely love the tools he brings to the table. Every coach’s job with quarterbacks is to put them into winning positions on each play. That includes providing escape plans with check-downs, making the reads very straight forward, and having line-of-scrimmage audibles for different coverages simplified. Fields can play Superman but keeping it simple, at first, is the best way to get the best Fields possible.
5. The showcase game of Fields’ career, to most, will undoubtedly be his six-touchdown performance against Clemson in the Playoff this past January. Getting leveled in the ribs, only to eventually out-duel and embarrass the presumptive No. 1 pick under the lights with virtuoso execution. How did that game help encapsulate Fields’ entire time at Ohio State? Do you have another favorite game or moment people might not discuss as much?
CR: Completely biased opinion here, but that was the most legendary individual performance I’ve seen from a football player. It showed all the best attributes Fields is bringing to Chicago: Toughness, leadership, undeniable arm talent, and most importantly, his competitive will. A lot of players would have taken that hit, came back rattled, but not Fields, he came out firing immediately and only got better from there against Clemson.
When we’re talking about a legacy game it’s Clemson, but I do have two personal favorites from Fields’ career. There was his performance against Michigan in 2019 where he re-injured his knee, Columbus collectively exasperated air, and all National Title hopes dwindled. He then comes back and delivers a strike to Garrett Wilson in the back of the end zone. Any Ohio State quarterback who wins that game gets a place in the history books, but not being at full strength and still having the moxie to deliver a second-half performance like that said it all.
Justin Fields briefly left the Ohio State-Michigan game with a knee injury.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 30, 2019
First play back, he threw a DIME! pic.twitter.com/UCoJ0p9B98
The other performance that has always stood out to me and not because Fields had some absurd stats or numbers, but due to circumstances, was the Michigan State game in 2020. Fields wasn’t sure who he was going to be playing with or if he was even going to be playing at all. While missing several key pieces on the offensive line, he came out 17-of-24 throwing the ball with a couple of touchdowns and also ran for over 100 yards on the ground, to add another two scores. This game came in a time of extreme uncertainty where nothing was a given. There wasn’t a sure chance the Buckeyes were even making the flight out to East Lansing. But Fields put the Buckeyes on his back and got them back to Columbus unscathed.
The Fields the Bears are getting is the one who led the #LetUsPlay campaign last fall. Despite having a high first-round grade, he opted-in to lead Ohio State for one last ride at a National Championship. Despite falling short of that goal, the leadership he showed through murky water is without a doubt the trait Chicago should be most excited for. He oozes natural talent. If Nagy can guide him along properly, the Bears have a special player Columbus would vouch for again and again. Fields will be a leader off the field and he will be a leader in the locker room.
Give it a few months and you’ll see that he’s The Guy.
Chris Renne is a staff writer for Land-Grant Holy Land. He’s also the host of the Buck-off Pod.
You can follow him on Twitter @buckoffpod.