Hoge's 10 Bears Things: What's next for Justin Fields


Justin Fields impressed coaches and teammates in his first weekend at Halas Hall, but rookie minicamp was just the first of many tests this summer. Adam Hoge breaks down what's next and provides his reporting on the rest of the rookie class after minicamp.

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It would be hard to call Justin Fields' first weekend in a Bears uniform anything other than a success. After easily passing the initial first impression test on Friday, there were a few more hiccups on Saturday as the Bears installed more of the offense and threw a larger volume into Saturday's session. Still, it's not like Fields struggled.

"What I noticed was the speed when we were in our team periods, the speed on tape didn’t look too fast," Bears head coach Matt Nagy said. "A lot of times, a quarterback can go to the wrong read. A lot of times, the quarterback’s thinking about, ‘How do I take a snap?,' and get the snap and 'Where do I step with the clock — at four o’clock or six o’clock before I fake the play-action? Where do I snap my head and not?' All that stuff that we teach him, he did the first day fairly easily. In an easy way. That’s what we look for. Are you coming back to the coach every three plays asking him to repeat the play-call, because you forgot what the play-call was? Or is practice going pretty rhythmically because you’re going in and out (of the huddle)? He was. That’s a win."

That might be the best way to describe Fields' rookie minicamp without putting too much stock into it -- a win. Fields simply looked smooth -- much like he did at Ohio State -- and made things look easy. That's exactly what you want to see from a rookie quarterback when he gets on the practice field for the first time at this level.

So what does Nagy want to see next?

"When you walk up to the line of scrimmage it can feel like you don't see anything," Nagy said. "You're trying to think of what you saw on the installs and you're trying to figure out what's going on but you really need to be looking to your first wide-vision to the right to see if your Z-receiver is off the ball and your Y-receiver is on the ball. Is your X on the ball? Where's your running back? OK, where's the Mike at? Now, OK, I've got to call before the play clock runs out."

And that's just pre-snap.

"Then, post-snap, there's a disguise in the read with the progression of the defense, rotation," Nagy continued. "So, I want to see that speed up. And I think he's done a really good so far in the little bit that we've seen in this rookie minicamp of doing a good job of post-snap vision, which was a strength of his in college. So that's just got to continue to speed up and you know he's going to get a great opportunity to do that against our defense and I think that's where we're going to have to see, OK, are there a lot of mistakes being made or are there a lot of plays being made? And is it natural and is it easy for him? And that's what we'll evaluate and see. And again, you'll know when you watch it and we'll all feel it as coaches."

The last part of that quote is very important. Everyone wants to know when Fields will play, but this is really a week-by-week evaluation. He passed the first test and now it's on to the next test. Will Fields' mental speed continue pace with the increased practice speed?

The second phase of the offseason program begins Monday, which means veterans (who show up) will mix with the rookies for strength-and-conditioning, virtual meetings, and "class on grass" workouts on the field at "a teaching pace." Essentially, a large foundation of the Bears' offense will be put into Fields' head over the next two weeks and on June 1, he'll get to face the Bears defense in a full-speed, non-contact practice for the first time. There will be seven of those practices over a two-week period, followed by mandatory veteran minicamp. Nagy has made it clear that Andy Dalton will receive the No. 1 reps in practice, but it's unclear if Fields or Nick Foles will work with the second-team. Regardless, it will be a process for Fields, but he certainly has the tools and talent to pass each test. And if he does, there's no doubt he'll keep earning more and more of the reps.

"I think the easiest way for us to simply think about this is it’ll all happen for those quarterbacks. They’ll all play however they’re supposed to play," Nagy said. "We’re all going to see whatever we’re supposed to see and then it’s our job as evaluators of who they are and what their strengths and weaknesses are to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to make the Bears the best team possible. That’s it.”



We're far from the point when we'll be able to know how Teven Jenkins will fare at left tackle. Check back with me when the pads go on and 1-on-1 pass rush drills begin in training camp.

In the meantime, Jenkins' size stood out and his footwork looked smooth, so the first impression was still a positive one.

“Right now I’m just not even worried about (starting)," Jenkins said Friday. "I’m worried about actually just getting in, knowing my plays, knowing players, getting to know my teammates, getting my feet wet in the scheme, doing all the techniques and everything. That's in the back of my head right now. Right now it’s for me to develop and progress, and if comes to that, that’s what it comes to because that’s what I’m here to do."

All eyes will be on Fields in the preseason, but the left tackle spot might even be more pressing for the Week 1 game against the Rams. With the Bears releasing veteran Charles Leno Jr., it sure seems like the starting left tackle job is Jenkins' to lose. His performance in training camp and in the preseason will be important to watch.


As with Jenkins, it's way too early to evaluate Larry Borom without pads, but it did seem fairly obvious to me that he needs to put some weight back on after losing 30 pounds in the pre-draft process. He played at 352 pounds at Missouri last fall.

"He got skinny, wanted to make those swimsuit issues," Bears offensive line coach Juan Castillo said last week. "He got down to 322, but that’s not what he needs to play at. He’s going to get back up to around 332, so that’s still 20 pounds lighter than he was before. But he’s a big man that’s athletic, that played good competition. We’re excited. We’re going to put him over there behind Germain (Ifedi) and let him compete with Germain.”

Borom isn't as long as Ifedi, but it was still very obvious that he's a big guy. The Bears were impressed with his weight loss and how he moved at his pro day before the draft, but now there will be a push to put on more muscle tone before training camp. Staying at Halas Hall in the Bears' strength and conditioning will help that process and it will be interesting to see if the fifth-round rookie can push Ifedi at right tackle in the preseason.



Don't sleep on Thomas Graham Jr. because it feels like he'll be one of the more relevant rookies in training camp. Part of that is due to need -- nickelback remains one of the few unsettled spots on the depth chart -- but there's also an early vibe suggesting the Graham Jr. could be in the mix early as a rookie.

It's also interesting that he has some familiarity with the defense. At Oregon, Graham Jr. played under defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, who spent four years as Vic Fangio's linebackers coach in San Francisco from 2011-14. New Bears defensive coordinator Sean Desai started learning under Fangio in 2015 and will continue to run that defensive scheme this season.

“They just come from the same tree so they run a similar defense," Graham Jr. said. "For me personally, it wasn’t like I’m coming into a whole organization that runs like a completely different defense that I’ve never seen before. I’ve seen it. It’s just different calls, different checks, different meanings for certain things but overall the same concept."



It's hard enough to evaluate running backs in training camp without tackling, so I'm not even going to go down that road in rookie minicamp. That said, Herbert appears well-built and looked smooth catching the ball out of the backfield. At the very least, he should be in the mix at kick returner after the Bears lost Cordarelle Patterson in the offseason.

"Kick return is something I pride myself on and I know it can affect the game to start out drives and help the offense to get field position," Herbert said. "It's something I've been talking to (special teams coordinator Chris Tabor) about. You know, I feel like I'll be able to help the team out in that way."


As Justin Fields showed off his deep ball over the weekend, sixth-round wide receiver Dazz Newsome found himself on the receiving end of those passes a few times.

"It's pretty," Newsome said about Fields' deep ball. "It's most definitely pretty."

The Bears are hoping Fields' easy touch down the field will transform an offense that was very horizontal with Mitchell Trubisky the last four years. Newsome will have to fight through a crowded wide receivers room to be on the receiving end of those deep balls as a rookie, but his experience over the weekend illustrated how the threat of the deep ball can change the mentality of a team's receiver unit.

"Just knowing that every time I went deep, there’s a chance I might get it because, for one, he’s a guy that’s looking downfield. And he’s definitely putting it right on the money. So that’s a good feeling," Newsome said.

Somewhere, Allen Robinson must be smiling hearing the rookie say that.


Just like with the offensive line, it would be unfair to judge a nose tackle based on unpadded rookie minicamp practices, but the weekend allowed the seventh round draft pick out of BYU to work on his craft.

"I think being able to be quick, using my hands more — not just trying to power everything with pads," Tonga said. "With pads, we get caught up in trying to bull rush, especially from the nose tackle position. Without pads, just showing speed, eluisveness and being able to be quick on my feet, nimble and being coachable."

It was interesting to hear Tonga -- who has a background in rugby -- say that he models his game after two other players from Tongan decent.

"I was a big fan of Haloti Ngata, a (former) defensive tackle for the Ravens. I enjoyed watching him being able to move at his weight and his size," Tonga said. "I’m a big fan of Vita Vea, defensive tackle for the Buccaneers right now. I try my best to show and to do the same things as them."


It was impossible not to notice edge rusher Charles Snowden, the undrafted rookie out of Virginia, who stands at a ridiculous 6-6 3/8 and 243. He's the definition of a long and lanky pass rusher. Snowden looked like a guy that wandered off the basketball court, got lost, and ended up on the football field -- which is basically how you would describe his career. Basketball is his first love, but football is where he got the bigger offers out of high school and his raw talent was enough to entice the Bears to sign him after he went undrafted. A broken right ankle in November didn't help his draft status, so it was good to see Snowden on the field at rookie minicamp. He's a project, but a very intriguing one.


- New Bears assistant defensive backs coach Mike Adams just couldn't stay off the field over the weekend. After an outstanding 16-year playing career, he's getting his first chance to coach in the NFL, but that didn't stop him from wearing a practice jersey and jumping into team drills (without a helmet) over the weekend.

"He was out there killing the post and got a couple of blitzes in there too," Graham Jr. said. "It was good to be able to actually play with a person who has played in the league for 16 years, and I want to be in that position one day."

- The Bears made one roster move after rookie minicamp concluded, signing former Oklahoma State wide receiver Chris Lacy to a contract. Lacy was in rookie minicamp as a veteran tryout player. At 6-3, 205, Lacy has good size, but enters a crowded wide receiver room. He has spent time with the Patriots, Lions and Cowboys since going undrafted in 2018, but only has three catches and 60 receiving yards on his career. To make room on the roster, the Bears waived linebacker Michael Pinckney.


With a final negative COVID-19 test Sunday morning, Nagy was able to get back into Halas Hall and join the rookies on the field for the final day of minicamp. The head coach was deemed a close contact after a family member tested positive earlier in the week, which left him watching the first two practices via a tablet on the field. For the Bears, it served as a reminder that things aren't quite back to normal yet.

"All these virtual meetings have been great, and we’ve adapted, but I’m tired of it," Nagy said Sunday. "I’m ready for these personal relationships. That’s what this is all about, is building relationships with these kids. Being able to sit down and try to have lunch with somebody and have a conversation about life. And when you install plays, it’s so much different to install plays in person without masks on and be able to see reactions and how they smile or how they don’t smile and how you smile as a teacher and don’t smile. It’s just crazy. I’m ready for the real deal, so being here in person allows us to have that on the field, which I couldn’t have virtually.”

Unfortunately, Nagy isn't quite in the clear, having only received his first vaccination about 12 days ago. That timetable suggests he'll be deemed fully vaccinated sometime around veteran minicamp in mid-June. The NFL released a memo Friday saying that fully vaccinated individuals are no longer required to wear a mask inside team facilities, so Nagy and any other coaches who are not fully vaccinated do not fall under that group yet. According to the league's offseason protocols, teams can begin holding meetings in-person on May 24 when the third phase of the offseason program begins.

Meanwhile, with the NFLPA still pressuring players not to attend the voluntary portion of the offseason program, the Bears already adjusted their schedule and reduced their number of full-speed OTA practices from 10 to seven. For more on what's next in the offseason program, click here.

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