Justin Fields

Justin Fields' offseason QB improvement clear to Bears DC Williams

The change in Justin Fields is already apparent at OTAs

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Bears defensive coordinator Alan Williams' main job is diagnosing the weaknesses in opposing quarterbacks, finding ways to exploit them, and ultimately defeating them.

Williams doesn't claim to be a "quarterback guru." But understanding the minute differences that create the stark gap between the haves and the have-nots of NFL quarterbacks is a focal point of his job. As such, Williams is uniquely qualified to discuss and analyze the thing that will have the greatest impact on the 2023 Bears' season and the future of general manager Ryan Poles' rebuild.

The maturation and improvement of quarterback Justin Fields.

Fields spent all offseason working on fine-tuning his mechanics and footwork. The 24-year-old quarterback studied film of quarterbacks with similar traits who play in the same wide-zone-based scheme. Fields knows he needs to clean up his accuracy on short throws and improve his rhythm and timing overall.

Only a week into OTAs, Williams has noticed a difference from the other side of the field.

"A couple things," Williams said Wednesday at Halas Hall when asked about Fields' growth. "Leadership. 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. So you have to be encouraged when you see those things."

This isn't a make-or-break season for Fields. But it's a make-or-you're-on-the-hot-seat campaign. If Fields fails to take the necessary leap as a passer, the Bears will have to make two choices: Do they pick up Fields' fifth-year option? Do they bring in competition next fall?

Unless Fields regresses this fall, picking up the fifth-year option should be a no-brainer for the Bears. It gives them an extra season of control of a young quarterback at a cost-effective number. If they decline it, they risk Fields having a career season in 2024 and forcing them to give him a big-money extension a year before the planned increase.

While the 2023 season will have enormous repercussions for Fields' and the Bears' future, the offensive brain trust at Halas Hall is focused on the small details that create significant changes. They are zooming in rather than taking the 1,000-foot view.

"I think it's just as he progresses in this system and as a quarterback in general, he can improve his accuracy in a lot of different ways just by tightening up his footwork," quarterback coach Andrew Janocko told NBC Sports Chicago. "That's him, but really that's any quarterback in the league. You see the guys that have that footwork, have that tempo, that rhythm, every year they lead the league in passing and they are the guys with the highest completion percentage."

The 2022 season left the Bears with silver linings and big questions as it pertains to their young quarterback.

Despite being put in a tough situation behind a bad offensive line and with limited weapons, Fields found a way to thrive as one of the most dynamic ball carriers in the NFL. He bounced back from a horrific start to author a decent sophomore season.

But while he lit the world on fire during a four-game stretch in the middle of the season, he was uneven as a passer. Fields often missed open receivers or refused to pull the trigger on throws when a receiver broke open. That's partially a product of a leaky offensive line that had Fields running for his life from Day 1. Fields was often under pressure immediately, and even when he wasn't, he would prematurely look to pull it down and run, anticipating the incoming pressure.

Despite clear warts in his development as a passer, the Bears saw growth. Those inside Halas Hall are pleased with Fields' improvement and believe a leap will come this fall.

There is no other option.

 “We’ve got to take a step forward," Janocko said. "That has to be a strong point in our game. That has to be a strong point to help this team win games. We’re going to quantify that stuff at some point here, but right now we’re just looking for marked improvement as we build for Phase 2 into the OTAs building blocks in the summer to make that a focal point of this offense.”

Fields understands he will be under the microscope this season. He knows that the 17 games from September to January will have a major impact on his future. A big season means the Bears will have the option to give Fields a big-money extension the second the season ends. But a flop means Fields' career clock will start ticking faster than it ever has, with 2024 potentially serving as his last stand.

But that big-picture stuff will figure itself out as long as Fields takes care of the small stuff.

"I'm not worried about contracts, I'm worried about wins. I could care less," Fields said after the Bears' second OTA practice at Halas Hall.

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