Eighty-nine days before the Chicago Bears kick off the regular season against the San Francisco 49ers at Soldier Field, quarterback Justin Fields was asked if he was itching for the season to start, if his eagerness to test his growth and see the team’s new-look offense in action was eroding his patience.
Fields just chuckled.
“No,” he said Tuesday afternoon. “I’m not ready for the season to start.”
The response was firm and emphatic.
“I’m just being honest,” he said. “We’re not ready to play a game right now.”
Nor should they be. Not in mid-June, not after the massive overhauls the team made this offseason to the front office, coaching staff and roster. This is a one-step-at-a-time reboot, and the Bears starting quarterback is aware enough to understand the hard work has only just begun.
The Bears are engrossed in their mandatory minicamp this week at Halas Hall, another stage to continue molding their offense and another chance for Fields to work on his footwork, timing and overall comfort in coordinator Luke Getsy’s system. Still, it’s clear the offense as a whole is a major work in progress and immersed in a trial-and-error phase that is obviously rough around the edges.
Fields, for example, occasionally might be a touch late or a tad off with a throw, just like he was late in team drills Tuesday when cornerback Jaylon Johnson jumped a pass to Tajae Sharpe along the left sideline, picked it off and raced to the north end zone of Field 1.
Costly mistake. Defensive celebration.
Still, that’s also the type of error Fields can reflect on in meetings and post-practice film study, looking to diagnose what exactly went wrong and how he can fix it.
“Right now, the coaches are throwing a lot at us,” Fields said. “They’re pretty much throwing the whole playbook at us — which is good. Of course there are going to be mistakes. But we’d rather have the mistakes come right now than later in the fall or in camp.”
Fields, as has been well-documented, likely will be climbing uphill for the foreseeable future, particularly with an unproven receiving corps and an unsettled line around him. To the latter point, the Bears continue to move pieces around up front. On Tuesday, their first-unit offensive line consisted of left tackle Braxton Jones, right tackle Larry Borom and interior linemen Sam Mustipher, Lucas Patrick and Cody Whitehair.
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Bears coaches are working to find the best grouping for what they want to do and might continue to fiddle with things into training camp in July and August.
“All combinations are open,” coach Matt Eberflus said.
Fields, you would think, would value continuity in his offensive line as soon as possible, wanting to develop a feel for how to operate within the pocket and learning how to distribute his trust. But as of this week, he said he has little anxiety about the fluid nature of the depth chart.
“I’m not in a rush,” Fields said. “We still have a lot of time. And at the end of the day, whoever does the job the best is going to be the best fit for us.”
Fields also spoke positively of his glowing connection with Getsy, eager to see that evolve in the months ahead.
In the bridge between the end of minicamp Thursday and the opening of training camp next month, Fields stressed his need to continue learning the details of his new playbook and the push to further his connection with his receivers.
Eberflus has emphasized the same things with his young quarterback and hopes off-campus throwing sessions with teammates will continue to be a part of Fields’ routine during the summer break.
“It’s an important factor for timing, to be able to work with each other,” Eberflus said.
Receiver Darnell Mooney might be the most dialed in with Fields at this point. And even with the growing pains the offense is enduring, Mooney is encouraged by Fields’ mindset.
“He’s just locking in and knowing what he wants to do with this offense, with this team,” Mooney said. “As a quarterback in this league, he wants to take over the league. He’s already Justin Fields. He wants to be the best quarterback in the league. And he’s taken the strides to get there.”
That brand of grand rhetoric is expected, of course. And soon it will have to be backed up by high-level on-field production that is consistent and undeniable. To this point, though, the bumps in the road remain obvious.
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Eventually, the patience many of the Bears have in working through the rough patches that are inevitable when installing a new offense with a young quarterback will give way to an urgency to start ramping up for Week 1. Balancing that patience and urgency properly will require effort.
“For me it’s just not making the same mistake twice,” Fields said. “If you make that one mistake on a play, just don’t do it again. And if you ultimately keep getting better growing, there will be (fewer) mistakes each and every day. And, of course, you’ll be right where you want to be.”
Tuesday was another reminder that where the Bears want to be offensively is still a long way away. The offense still needs significant time to get there. But the effort needed to pave that road will be substantial.
At the start of practice Wednesday, the Bears will be 88 days out from their opener as the countdown to their bigger tests continues.