Justin Fields

What we learned about Justin Fields, Bears during offseason program

As the Bears break for the summer, here's what we learned from the offseason program

Getty Images

Bears quarerback Justin Fields at mandatory minicamp

The Bears broke for the summer at the conclusion of minicamp Thursday. The offseason program allowed the Bears to showcase a roster that is on a much different level than the one that went 3-14 last season.

Quarterback Justin Fields had good moments and bad. The third-year signal-caller showed improved release and decision-making at times, but we won't know much about his evolution until games count for real.

Wide receiver Chase Claypool had a nice start to OTAs but missed the remaining practices with minor injuries. Fields, head coach Matt Eberflus, and offensive coordinator all lauded Claypool for his hard work this offseason. Claypool is entering a contract season and knows the Bears are his best chance to get the paycheck he covets. Despite whispers that the Bears are frustrated with Claypool, all indications I've gotten are that the Bears are pleased with his work and expect this motivated (and healthy) Claypool to arrive at camp.

As for the Bears' rookies, a few popped initially, while the others will have to wait for training camp.

With the Bears off for the summer, here are a few key takeaways from the offseason program.

O-line continuity

Last offseason, the Bears entered OTAs and minicamp with a lot of questions upfront.

Larry Borom and Teven Jenkins were the presumed starting tackles, with Lucas Patrick at center and a big old question mark at right guard. Dakota Dozier was expected to compete for that job. He went down with a torn ACL in the spring. That left Sam Mustipher as the best (only?) option to replace him.

Rookie Braxton Jones slid into the starting group at left tackle late in OTAs, bumping Jenkins to the second team.

The Bears brought in Riley Reiff and Michael Schofield on Day 1 of training camp. They moved Jenkins to right guard prior to the second preseason game, with Mustipher taking over at center after Patrick suffered a thumb injury.

The Bears never really found their “best five” in 2022. They platooned Jenkins and Patrick at right guard to start the season. They went between Borom and Reiff at right tackle, and even gave Alex Leatherwood some late-season reps.

It’s a different story this year.

The Bears signed right guard Nate Davis in the offseason and drafted right tackle Darnell Wright in the first round. The Davis signing moved Jenkins to left guard and Cody Whitehair to center. While Patrick got some reps with the ones at center during the offseason program, the Bears have a clear view of who their best five are entering the summer.

“It’s just continuity. It’s beneficial to have that,” head coach Matt Eberflus said. “It’s important that guys work together so they get the calls down. Certainly, you have to have guys that flex inside and out. Lucas does that. We’ll have to figure out who’s going be flexing outside for us as we go through this. It’s great. It’s much better to have continuity on the offensive line.”

The Bears still have real depth issues on the offensive line. Patrick currently sits as the backup center, left guard, and right guard. Borom is the Bears’ only real option as a swing tackle. Leatherwood, Ja’Tyre Carter, Dieter Eiselen, and Kellen Diesch round out the group.

Having a set “best five” is a positive step for the Bears as they head toward the 2023 season. But they’ll need to bolster their depth before training camp beings.

Attitude reflects leadership

Everything Justin Fields does is analyzed to the nth degree.

Take the discourse after Day 2 of minicamp. Fields had, by his standards, a subpar day. There were some good throws, but there was also a pick-six by Jaquan Brisker and several other misses.

In the grand scheme of things, a June practice in shorts means zero. The Bears’ offense is in an installation phase and isn’t calling plays to beat the defense. They are just trying to get everyone on the same page.

But every report of an interception or missed throw brought unnecessary discourse about the Bears’ future at quarterback. The simple truth is that no pass that Fields throws in May or June will have any impact on the passes he throws in September and beyond.

The third-year quarterback showed growth. I thought, at times, the release looked quicker and the decision-making sharper. Again, it means little.

But what was notable was the talk from Fields’ teammates about his improvement and his leadership.

“He looks better. A lot better. He’s getting better every day,” Jenkins told NBC Sports Chicago of Fields.

“Definitely a freak when it comes to his athletic ability,” guard Nate Davis said. “His arm is incredible. Definitely a leader in the huddle and somebody I want to play for. Somebody I want to block for. Somebody I want to see do great things on the field.

“That he’s been a vet,” Davis continued when asked about Fields’ command of the huddle. “I’ve been around Ryan Tannehill’s another really good vet, too. Just see him very comparable to that —  just be able to get in the huddle and say, ‘This is what we gotta do. Let’s go ahead and do that.’ Kind of relaxes everybody else knowing, ‘OK, we’ve got somebody in charge. He’s been there, he’s done that. He’s going to do great things.’”

“His leadership keeps growing,” tight end Cole Kmet said. “I think he just gets more confidence in himself every day and how he comes in the locker room every day, so that’s been cool to see.”

Fields entered last season unsure of his future with the organization. A new regime taking over put everyone back to Square One. But Fields played well with little around him, and the organization’s vote of confidence in him this offseason cemented Fields as a pillar of this rebuild.

“I just think everybody’s buying in, even more than last year, so it’s great to see,” Field said. “Of course, for me, I’ve definitely grown as a leader. I think even with all the new guys coming in – they’ve made it easy, they’ve bought into our culture here, just competing day in and day out, and really just having that championship mindset. We’re all working towards the same goal, all working towards getting better, and I think we just gotta take it a day at a time.”

Offseason standouts

While there’s not a ton to be gleaned from OTAs and minicamp, a few players stood out during the six media-viewed practices.

First was tight end Robert Tonyan. The McHenry native made several nice catches in the intermediate area of the field and in the red zone. For an offense that runs through the tight ends, adding another legitimate pass-catching weapon should give the Bears’ passing game more teeth, especially in the red area.

Last season, the Bears relied on Trevon Wesco and Ryan Griffin to be the second and third tight end. While decent blockers, neither struck fear into defenses as a pass-catching threat. Tonyan will.

The second standout was rookie wide receiver Tyler Scott. The former Junior Olympian started OTAs with the second team but quickly earned reps with Fields and the first-team offense. Sometimes track speed doesn’t translate to the football field as you’d expect, but Scott’s speed jumps out immediately.

The rookie got open on go routes a number of times, beating fellow rookie Tyrique Stevenson and second-year corner Kyler Gordon. Scott and Fields still are working on building a connection, but as long as that speed exists when the pads come on, the Bears will have found something in the rookie.

The finals standout was defensive end Terrell Lewis. The Alabama product is re-inventing himself as an edge rusher in the NFL. While you can’t learn much from the trenches without shells or pads, Lewis had a nice minicamp that included a couple sacks that derailed a two-minute drill by the first-team offense. The Bears are in desperate need of pass-rush help, and Lewis will be a guy to watch in training camp.

Click here to follow the Under Center Podcast.

Contact Us