Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles provided a checklist Wednesday afternoon of what he wants to see from quarterback Justin Fields in his second season under offensive coordinator Luke Getsy.
Some circles of social media conversations about Fields this preseason have reached such heights that phrases such as “MVP candidate” and “4,000 passing yards” are thrown around about his crucial third NFL season.
Eleven days before the Bears season opener against the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field, Poles’ goals for Fields were more grounded, starting with basic improvement.
“We want those sack numbers to come down, interceptions to come down, make good reads, protect himself,” Poles said. “Just see him take that next step.”
If that’s not the most alluring list of expectations for Bears fans getting excited for the season, it’s a good beginning for Fields — and steps that will lead toward those bigger goals. Two of the checklist items come with concrete numbers to track for the quarterback who threw for 2,242 yards and ran for 1,143 yards last season.
Fields and Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson had the distinction of being the most-sacked quarterbacks in 2022. They each were taken down 55 times, but Fields’ sack percentage was 14.7% compared with Wilson’s 10.2%
Fields threw 11 interceptions to 17 touchdown passes, but he attempted only 318 passes. His 3.5% interception rate was among the worst for quarterbacks who started at least seven games. Only Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott’s 3.8% was worse.
Neither, of course, was entirely on Fields. Poles took specific steps this offseason to shore up the protection of Fields and pass-catching talent around him.
Poles said he feels better about the Bears’ ability to lower the number of sacks after drafting rookie right tackle Darnell Wright and seeing left tackle Braxton Jones grow in his preparation for his second NFL season. The Bears also added veteran guard Nate Davis and this week traded for guard/center Dan Feeney as reinforcement.
Fields’ growing comfort with Getsy’s offense also should help him avoid sacks.
“Obviously we need to see that (sack) number change,” Poles said. “It’s a relationship, right? Where protection’s got to be better and I feel better about our setup in terms of the guys in front of him. The tackles, with Braxton going into Year 2. Darnell’s doing a good job. That alone should help us. And then Justin’s ability to execute our offense more efficiently and get the ball out quicker too. All of that should run together and that number should drop.”
Top wide receiver DJ Moore didn’t play a ton in the preseason, but he made it clear with just a couple of big plays what having more talent around Fields can do.
Poles — who also brought in wide receiver Tyler Scott, tight ends Robert Tonyan and Marcedes Lewis and running backs D’Onta Foreman and Roschon Johnson to aid the offense — said he believes explosive plays and run after the catch are both going to be better this season.
He also said Fields’ anticipation and trust in his receivers have been some of the biggest areas of growth in the passing game.
“We were just out at practice and it was happening again, which is good,” Poles said.
All of those improvements could lead to another goal.
In his opening statement of the preseason news conference, Poles said he believed the Bears were ready to “elevate and go to the next level.” In a follow-up, Poles was asked how he defined that.
“Win more games,” he said.
Poles might have been talking about the team as a whole. But any steps Fields takes obviously will be a big part of winning for the Bears, who have gone 5-20 with him as a starter.
Poles said instead of presenting his expectations directly to Fields he let coach Matt Eberflus, Getsy and quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko talk with him about goals for taking the next step.
And Poles expects some of those might be of the loftier variety — the kind bound to induce excitement for Bears fans.
“He knows what’s expected of him,” Poles said. “And really he’s a goal-oriented guy and he’s competitive. So I’m sure his stuff is more aggressive than what ours is. That’s how you want your guys to be.”
As for who will be backing up Fields this season, Poles said the Bears have “got to work through that and see what we’re comfortable with.” The Bears have undrafted rookie Tyson Bagent on the roster, but Poles said he hopes to bring back Nathan Peterman, whom they cut Tuesday, as their third quarterback. He said Peterman is “important to us” and “important to that room as well.”
Regardless of whether Bagent will be the backup for Week 1, assistant GM Ian Cunningham said they think Bagent has “a bright future.”
“He’s got this moxie,” Cunningham said. “He has this confidence about him. I remember walking out of the tunnel with him against Tennessee and it was like, he’s been here before. Right? And he has showed it.”