Justin Fields

Justin Fields not only reason for optimism around 2023 Bears

Things feel different around the 2023 Bears

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The 2022 season took its toll on the Bears' locker room. That much is clear now.

"Losing sucks," running back Khalil Herbert said Wednesday when asked about former running back David Montgomery's comments about having the fun sucked out of football. "Not that I know that other guys experienced it. But losing sucks at the end of the day. I know nobody was too happy to lose last year. And that’s one thing I feel like we’re trying to change this year."

Professional athletes are wired to believe they are never out of the fight. That unshakeable self-belief has helped deliver them to the top of the sport. But the writing was on the wall for the 2022 Bears from the start. It was a teardown season destined to be filled with losses as general manager Ryan Poles reset the deck to begin his rebuild.

Ten straight losses punctuated a season in which the Bears weren't built to win. A locker room that's given no realistic chance to succeed can become dejected. The unwavering confidence fades.

But things feel different around Halas Hall these days.

Poles spent the offseason injecting talent into the Bears' roster. He traded for wide receiver DJ Moore, signed star linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, and drafted top-tier right tackle Darnell Wright with the No. 10 overall pick.

The 2023 Bears believe they'll be in the fight this fall. There's confidence that they are equipped to win and compete this fall.

"There’s a different feel this year," center Cody Whitehair said. "Everybody is really hungry this year. Guys came in and looked great, working hard. So, we like where we’re at. We’re only going to continue to get better. It’s nice that we have most of our team here for the voluntary phase and to get things going on the right foot. 

"We got a lot of good players in here. We’re really excited with where we’re at and where we’re going to go."

That excitement starts with quarterback Justin Fields, who survived and sometimes thrived with the deck stacked against him in 2022. Now in his second year in offensive coordinator Luke Getsy's system, the Bears believe Fields will take off this fall.

"I just think he’s going to be more comfortable from certain reads, certain passes that he’s seen before, certain coverages," Whitehair said of Fields. "It all ties together. He's doing really well right now. He’s very commanding in the huddle. His leadership has just taken a next step. I’m really excited to see him this year."

"A couple things: leadership," defensive coordinator Alan Williams said of Fields' growth in the offseason. "Because that’s what you want in your quarterback. I see good decision-making. That’s what you want in your quarterback. I see improved accuracy. That’s what you want in your quarterback. And how fast he’s processing. That’s also the, in my mind, what you want in your quarterback. So from Day 1 last year to right now? From my standpoint, and I’m not a quarterback guru whatsoever, but I see how he has grown from last year to this year, and practice by practice by practice, he’s growing."

The Bears' success will hinge on whether or not Fields makes a leap as a passer this fall. With better weapons and a more competent offensive line, there are few excuses for the third-year quarterback not to be a better passer this fall.

In the two OTA sessions the media has observed, Fields has looked sharp. He and Moore already seem to have developed a good rapport. The two connected on five passes during the first OTA session, and Fields threaded a ball between two defenders to hit Moore for a touchdown on Wednesday.

But an improved Fields is only one reason for the super-charged current of optimism surging through the 2023 Bears.

The addition of Moore and Edmunds gives the Bears two elite, game-changing talents they didn't have last season. Players like Moore and Edmunds have a different feel than the group the Bears trotted out a season ago. They have a gravity about them.

The Bears' new talent will get the secondary headlines after Fields, but their returning players, who now have the experience to match their skill, might be why optimistic expectations are met in 2023.

Kyler Gordon was the first draft pick of the Poles era. The Bears asked the young cornerback to man the outside in base and then play the nickel in sub packages. As most young corners do, Gordon struggled early in his career. He improved as the season went on but never quite broke through the rookie wall.

An offseason to breathe, reflect, and study have Gordon in a place to be the player the Bears need this fall.

"Last year everything was just in a frenzy because he wants to please, he wants to do, he wants to be so good, so it’s just ah, ah, ah, all the time and now he’s, OK, he’s relaxing," Williams said. "He’s playing within himself. He’s got his feet up underneath him. He’s communicating more than he did. He already communicated before. But now it’s more, so you can see when a guy can relax and go out there, and we call it the RPMs — that his RPMs are not always in the red all the time. So then, if they’re not in the red all the time, he is mentally alert but is physically relaxed in how he’s playing now."

Gordon's offseason included time to review all the plays he did and didn't make during a tough rookie season. He went over them and over them, determined to understand where he went wrong and how to play it differently this season.

"Just going through the season, all the games we played, all the bad plays, good plays, and just stuff to work on," Gordon said. "I went through that about two or three times. Now I really feel like I know those situations and experiences that I went through, had time to go back and correct it, perfect it, and keep working on it still to this day.

"I definitely feel way more comfortable in the situations I get put in. I feel like I can be in the same spot I was in last year and have more knowledge in that area and not make the same mistake and set myself up for success."

Gordon is one of many Bears who should be able to use the 2022 season as a springboard for a better 2023. That includes safety Jaquan Brisker, left tackle Braxton Jones, wide receiver Chase Claypool, and defensive end Trevis Gipson.

Claypool has already been lauded for his improved work ethic and attitude this offseason. Jones had a full offseason to get stronger to improve his anchor against the bull rush. The Bears are letting Gipson play both sides of the line to find a spot that allows him to maximize his talent.

Fields' growth and the additions of Moore, Edmunds, and Wright will raise the Bears' floor. The expected improvements of the now secondary pieces can elevate their ceiling.

There's always optimism in May. Last offseason, the Bears talked a lot about proving people wrong, only to lose the final 10 games of a season doomed from the start.

There are plenty of reasons things could fall apart for the Bears this fall, headlined by shaky offensive line depth and limited pass rush. Those issues likely have the Bears a year away from realistic postseason contention.

But the 2023 Bears believe things will be different than a year ago. Much different.

There's evidence to suggest that will be the case. It starts with Fields, but the hope goes much deeper than the offseason improvement the third-year quarterback has already shown.

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