The question on every Chicago Bears’ fan’s mind is... When will rookie quarterback Justin Fields take over as the starter from Andy Dalton? And it’s not just fans, because from the day Fields was drafted that’s been the discussion from the media on both a national and local level as well.
I’m confident in predicting that Fields will get the nod at some point during the 2021 season, but that decision will need to be expertly navigated by number one on this year’s 10 Most Important Bears list, head coach Matt Nagy.
When to pull the trigger and make the switch is going to be a critical decision Nagy makes not only for the development of his rookie QB, but also for the morale of his locker room. Every team with two starting caliber signal callers risks a split amongst the players, with some favoring the status quo of the number one while other pine for the backup. Or in the case of the 2021 Bears, the veteran or the rookie. This likely won’t be an issue with the Bears because Nagy has made their plan to ready Fields apparent to the entire team. The Dalton/Fields friendship appears to be sound, with the two embracing a mentor/mentee relationship.
Fields has bought in to Nagy’s plan, and that has a lot to do with how Nagy and his coaches have presented it to the Ohio State rookie.
“I mean, if I don’t believe in it, then it’s not going to work out,” Fields said last month from Halas Hall about the team’s plan to prepare him to play. “My job is strictly to get better, be the best quarterback I can be and, you know, help my team win. That’s what I am going to do whether it’s starting, whether it’s sitting, I’m going to do whatever is the best that is going to help us win.”
Nagy was front and center in the Bears search to upgrade at quarterback this offseason, and while GM Ryan Pace technically made the move, drafting Fields has Nagy’s hands all over it as well.
But the same can be said for signing Dalton, and while he may not have been their top choice, Dalton brings plenty of experience and professionalism to the franchise. Plus Dalton is a fit for Nagy’s offense and with Nagy taking play calling back for the 2021 season, he’s setting himself up for a put-up or shut-up season.
“The time is now, we know that, and we’re looking forward to it,” Nagy said about their opportunity to get the offense back in gear while on Kenneth Davis’ Under Center Podcast. “You can’t live in the past. And that’s not what we’re going to do. I refuse to allow that to happen. This is a new season, and so we got a fresh start. So let’s see what we can do with it.”
Nagy has had some stubborn moments as a play caller the last couple years, but with the cerebral Dalton and Fields as his QB1 and QB1a, there’s no excuses for him this season. Sure he may not be able to call as much with the rookie as he can with the veteran, but once it’s officially Fields’ show, then Nagy will need to craft a game plan that can keep defenses off balance while incorporating things that Fields can excel at.
I’ve always been a fan of Nagy the head coach, and his ability to maneuver his team through two disappointing .500 seasons speaks volumes, but we’ll quickly find out if he’s grown as a play caller regardless of who’s taking snaps week one.
It was just six months ago that I thought the Bears should have moved on from Nagy, and while I think his seat has cooled off considerably, he still has something to prove in 2021.