Hoge's 10 Bears Things: Fields ‘in the building 24/7'


There's plenty to react to nearly a week into Bears training camp, including general manager Ryan Pace's annual sit-down. Adam Hoge breaks it all down in his 10 Bears Things column.

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Ryan Pace wasn't expecting to see anyone else at Halas Hall. It was a Saturday during the dead period between veteran minicamp and training camp, when players are scattered all over the country enjoying time with their friends and families.

"There’s one car I don’t recognize in the parking lot. It’s a truck. And I come in the building and I’m walking through the hallway and it’s empty. I’m the only one in the building. It’s kind of eerie," the Bears' general manager said. "And around the corner comes Justin (Fields) and he’s up here just getting a workout in."

Over the weekend, Pace joined The Hoge & Jahns Podcast for his exclusive annual training camp visit and said his rookie quarterback "is in the building 24/7."

Watch: Ryan Pace on The Hoge & Jahns Podcast

Yes, the Bears' biggest problem with Fields so far is that they can't keep him out of Halas Hall.

"With any position, but especially that position, you have to be obsessed to be great," Pace said. "The weight training and the film study and everything you see on the field, it’s just natural. It’s just 24/7, it’s hard to turn that off. I mean, all the good ones – Matt (Nagy) talks about Alex Smith and I reference Drew Brees – they’re all that way. It’s just natural for him, and for Andy (Dalton) and for Nick (Foles)."

Pace is careful to reference all three of his quarterbacks when he discusses Fields, who sits between Dalton and Foles on the depth chart. The general manager also mentioned that Foles was in the weight room at 6 a.m. one morning when he arrived and that Dalton had "all the guys over at his house for dinner" a couple days before the veterans were due to report to training camp. But Dalton is also entering his 11th NFL season and Foles his 10th, so you expect those veterans to know what it takes to have success in the NFL. Running into a rookie on a Saturday in the dead of summer when no one else is in the building? That carries a little extra weight.

And, of course, it doesn't guarantee success. Field still has to get it done on the field -- but the Bears are more than pleased with the early results.


As far as what's happening on the field, it's apparent that Fields' raw talent and downfield mentality fit Nagy's desire to operate from "touchdown-to-checkdown," but not every play is run that way.

“We have to, at times, have him understand if the progression in a play is low to high, if it’s there, take it," Nagy said. "He’s had a few of those where it’s low to high and he’s tried to put one in the second level, third level, 20 yards instead of taking the 7-yard completion down below. Some worked and some haven’t."

Of course, the ones that have worked have looked very, very good and it's not like Nagy wants to strip Fields of his aggressive mentality.

"Some of his strengths, if you go back and look at what he’s done in college are those 20-yard throws, whether it’s a dagger, whether it’s a circus route on the outside, outside of the numbers, so we want to work to his strengths, too, and be able to help him in other areas," Nagy said.

The dagger is a common high-low concept with a vertical clear out and the outside receiver attacking the deep middle of the field. A circus route starts as more of a vertical route inside the numbers before the receiver cuts back out towards the sideline. Both are tougher throws that littered Fields' Ohio State tape.

"You don’t try to tame somebody too much," Nagy said. "You want to be able to let him go and do his thing, but you’ve gotta make sure that if we’re telling the wide receivers, tight ends and running backs the progression of a play and they’re open and they’re No. 1 or 2 in the progression and they’re not getting it because we’re staying outside of that progression, then they start to get frustrated. And he hasn’t done that, but we want to just keep him within the system.”




While it's too early to know if Fields will make a serious push for early playing time, it's obvious Dalton won't go down easily. There's little doubt the veteran has been the more polished quarterback through the first four practices -- as he should be -- even if he hasn't matched the "wow" throws that Fields seems to complete every practice.

Asked early last week about the awkward dynamic that exists with a fan base that wants to see the rookie as soon as possible, Dalton replied: "I'm sure I'll be making big plays, too, and hopefully they'll be cheering at the same time. For me being the starter, hopefully they would see that if I'm making big plays, that's good for everybody."

It's hard not to like Dalton's attitude. He has embraced playing a positive role in the rookie's development, but Dalton also is carrying an edge to him, clearly motivated to prove he can hold onto the starting job throughout the 2021 season.

So far the results have been solid. Let's put it this way: Dalton would easily be winning last year's quarterback competition between Foles and Mitchell Trubisky.


Midway through Saturday morning's practice, Bears running back David Montgomery took a handoff, cut up the middle, and took off. Like, really took off.

Sure, he was in shorts and not wearing pads, but the third-year running back's speed was impressive.

"He looks faster. I know he worked on it a lot this summer," Pace said. "I know I keep saying it, but he's obsessed. He's got a chip on his shoulder. He's really locked in and focused right now. He worked his butt off all summer and I think it's evident in the early days of this summer."


Perhaps it's because reporters keep bringing up his name, but the Vic Fangio influence appears to be alive and well at Halas Hall. Players occasionally bring up Fangio's name unprompted, but even when they're asked, it's not like they shy away from the conversation.

2021 will be Fangio's third season in Denver as the Broncos' head coach, but his influence on new Bears defensive coordinator Sean Desai is heavy and the players are noticing. Saturday, defensive tackle Bilal Nichols said he senses a 2018 vibe again.

"The way we prepare for the games. Vic was a very detailed guy. He had everything lined out for you, even, like, the reasons for why we did things. Everybody understood why we were calling certain plays in certain situations. That helped them understand what their job responsibility was. The way he prepared us. We’re getting that feeling back," Nichols said.

Desai is extremely organized -- in fact, he says being unorganized is "a pet peeve" of his -- and while he appears somewhat stoic, Nichols warned not to underestimate the fire his defensive coordinator can deliver.

"First of all, when we get on the field, there’s a switch. He be juiced up," Nichols said. "Even in meetings too - I don’t think you guys see that side of him. He’s very passionate about what he does. He’s not going to let anyone outwork him. As players, that’s what you want out of your coach. Somebody that’s going to be out there with you through thick and thin, that’s giving it their all. He’s just amazing, for real. He’s done a great job so far. There’s a lot of excitement about it."



As for Nichols, you should expect him to get paid very well sometime in the next seven months. The former fifth round pick is entering the final year of his rookie deal and he has big goals after his breakout 2020 season.

"All-Pro, simply. All-Pro and winning the Super Bowl," Nichols said about his goal for 2021. "That’s just how I feel. That’s the type of the standard I hold myself to each and every day."

Those are lofty goals, but Nichols -- still only 24 -- played at a level worthy of getting paid like a longterm starter and he improved as the 2020 season went along. It wouldn't be surprising to see him establish himself as one of the most important parts of the defense this year.

So the question is, will the Bears lock Nichols up to a contract extension before the regular season begins?

"I don’t really know, you know. We just going to play it out and go from there," Nichols said. "I’m just focused on winning the Super Bowl this year and all that stuff will take care of itself. You go out there and play well, you bring a championship back here to Chicago and all of that will take care of itself.”

In the meantime, Nichols won't let the contract situation distract himself, despite admiting he thinks about it.

"Obviously, I’d be lying to you if I said I don’t think about it or that it’s something that’s easy not to think about because you work your whole life to get up to this point," Nichols said. "It’s just about staying focused. At the end of the day, I feel like if you are thinking about things in the future, you are messing up for yourself in the present. I try not to get caught up in all that. My time is going to come. I put the work in and I’m going to continue to put the work in. I’m going to let the work speak for itself. The work has gotten me this far. We are going to keep working.”



Pace and tempo have been an emphasis in camp this year and the Bears appear to be practicing faster. One of the reasons why Nagy wants his team practicing faster is because tempo is very important on gameday. In a very detailed answer, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor explained why:

"We’re defining tempo as being from the break of the huddle to the snap of the ball. And for this conversation, from the break of the huddle to the snap of the ball, then the defense has all kinds of things it can do. They can have a guy in a three-point stance at the snap who drops in pass coverage. They can have a safety, No. 26, blitz. They can show like it’s going to be two safeties back and rotate it to one of those safeties. What can we do? Well, what we can do is set the pace in lining up as fast as we want. And if we motion, do it fast. And put pressure. Just like they’re going to try to put pressure on us with disguise and making things look different than they are, tempo is one way for us where we take control of the way a game is going to go. We play a team and we’ve got some in our division. It’s easy for me to think of one in our division with a veteran safety who does a great job disguising. We felt like the second time we played that team last year, we did a great job with our tempo and we took some of those disguises away from them. We forced them at times to line up and it looked like we were going fast and they lined up and now we knew what they were doing."

Lazor didn't say which team he was talking about, but the guess here is that is the Vikings and veteran safety Harrison Smith.

"So for us, we’ve tried to sell it to the players that this is our weapon, this is our tool," Lazor said. "Whether we’re just going fast and snapping the ball or whether we’re motioning quickly or making the defense make calls when we get into a bunch or a stack or whether we fake it, it’s our right to do it as long as we can legally do it in the 40-second clock."



Not to be overlooked, the Bears lost some big time special teamers in the offseason, including veterans Cordarrelle Patterson and Sherrick McManis. With that in mind, I asked special teams coordinator Chris Tabor who he thinks will be stepping up into his leadership roles:

"DHC (DeAndre Houston-Carson0 is a guy that I’ve always said, he’s the straw that stirs the drink and does a lot of things behind the scenes for us," Tabor said. "I have my linebackers are back – Iggy (Joel Iyiegbuniwe) and Woodsy (Josh Woods). Jonesy (Christian Jones), I wasn’t here the first time he was here, but he’s jumped right in and I love how he approaches special teams. Damien Williams, the way he approaches special teams. He was trained in Kansas City. He does a great job. We have a great core. I love being around them and they are fun to coach. Our job right now is to define who all those guys are going to be and mesh them together to be a cohesive unit.”

Hockey nicknames aside, all of those players have a ton of special teams experience, including Houston-Carson, who is already in his sixth NFL season after the Bears selected him in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft.

“Just a lot of things behind the scenes that he does. (Houston-Carson) is one of the most intelligent football players I’ve been around," Tabor said. "He plays our personal protecter for us and does a great job. To be honest, I haven’t had a personal protector like him since I was in Cleveland and had Jimmy Leonard who is now the D-coordinator at Wisconsin. DHC sees things and has ideas and studies tape and he’s just a true pro’s-pro. I rely on that. You get good information from what he tells you."

Leonhard is well known in football circles as being one of the most intelligent players to ever play the game, so that's extremely high praise from the special teams coordinator.



- One player who has stood out catching footballs from Fields: Veteran tight end Jesse James, who was signed right before training camp began when Jake Butt retired.

- Speaking of tight ends, Cole Kmet certainly looks the part in practice. It will be interesting to see if he continues to shine with the pads on.

- No one wants to put the pads on more than the offensive line. It's pretty hard to stop Nichols, Akiem Hicks and Khalil Mack when you can't even hit them.


The Bears will be back at Halas Hall Monday for their first 2.5 hour practice (the last three practices were all two hours). Tuesday, they'll practice at Soldier Field in front of fans and that will be the first time they put the pads on. Nagy said there won't be any live tackling at Soldier Field, but there will be "thud" periods.

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