LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Bears exited their second mini-bye Monday but returned to Halas Hall without a firm answer on quarterback Justin Fields' status for Sunday's game against the Lions in Detroit.
Fields dislocated his right thumb in the Bears' Week 6 loss to the Minnesota Vikings and has missed the last four games. Fields returned to practice in limited fashion on Nov. 3. The third-year quarterback is "progressing" but wasn't medically cleared to play in the Bears' 16-13 win over the Carolina Panthers last Thursday.
Once Fields is medically cleared, the Bears' coaching staff has to determine if the quarterback can make all necessary throws with a still-healing right thumb.
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"We're evaluating that as we go," head coach Matt Eberflus said when asked how Fields' throws have looked in practice. "I think they look good. I think he's in a good spot. Again, we'll know exactly where we're gonna be probably more on Wednesday. I don't "really have any more updates other than that, but in terms of him throwing the ball, it looks to be good."
Quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko said the Bears will look at several factors before deciding if Fields will return to action.
"Is he comfortable?" Janocko said. "What is his pain tolerance? Is he getting back to where he is? Is his rhythm there? Is it coming off his hands smoothly? And what’s the ball look like when it’s coming out? Is it coming out with any flap at all or is it coming out nice and smooth and looks like him?
Fields wore a glove when he returned to practice on Nov. 3. Last week, Fields practiced with a wrap on his right hand. On Monday, the third-year quarterback had only some tape supporting his thumb.
That's all part of the quarterback's experimenting process to determine the best way to support his healing thumb that allows him to fully grip the ball and put the needed velocity on all his throws.
"He's tried different things," Eberflus said. "You know he started with the glove, then he cut the thumb out, that's just the way that he feels comfortable."
Eberflus wouldn't say if Fields was medically cleared over the Bears' three-day weekend. The Bears did a light practice that focused on individual drills Monday. Eberflus said the Bears need to see Fields operate in a full-team setting before determining his status for Sunday's game.
"We just need more time," Eberflus said. "We need teamwork. We need that, and we'll eventually get there. We're just not there right now.
“Functioning in the game of football," Eberflus continued when asked what they need to see in the team drills. "That’s the big part of it, and that’s really the only update I have. Once we see him in the game of football in terms of going against the scout team and all that stuff and taking snaps and playing full speed, then we’ll make a determination, but it’s not there today."
The Bears have gone 2-2 in Fields' absence, with undrafted rookie quarterback Tyson Bagent piloting the ship.
Eberflus and the Bears' staff have praised Bagent for his ability to digest and retain information in chunks. The rookie quarterback did an admirable job filling in, showing poise, accuracy, and quick processing. He made the expected rookie mistakes but showed that, at the very least, he has a future in the NFL as a high-quality backup.
That being said, Fields' expected return will give the Bears' offense an explosive punch it lacks with Bagent.
"The ability to stretch the field vertically and horizontally in the run game as well and then having to be able to really focus on, in the passing game, the ability to run in a drop-back pass or in a boot situation and really hurt you that way," Eberflus said when asked how adding Fields back will elevate the offense. "So there’s a lot of things he really brings to the table."
The Bears' top priority entering this season was to get a comprehensive evaluation of Fields' potential to be a franchise quarterback. Fields struggled to start the season before stringing together back-to-back good games against the Denver Broncos and Washington Commanders.
His injury in Week 6 stalled the Bears' plans to exit the season with a clear path forward at quarterback. Fields returning and staying healthy for the final seven games will give the Bears more information with which to make their vital decision this offseason.
But first, he has to be medically cleared to return and then get the green light from the staff. Things are trending in the right direction for Fields, but there are still hurdles to clear before he takes the field Sunday in Detroit.