LAKE FOREST – Lucas Patrick spent five seasons blocking for Aaron Rodgers, so the Bears' new center knows greatness when he sees it.
So far, Justin Fields has been as advertised and more to the 28-year-old offensive lineman.
"I had pretty high expectations," Patrick said of Fields on Tuesday after the Bears' second OTA practice.
"You don't get drafted as high as he does in the National Football League just by kind of having a wet noodle or slow feet. He's really talented. I thought he was going to be really good, and he is exceeding my expectations."
Patrick isn't the only one impressed by the second-year signal-caller's talent, work ethic, and leadership during a critical offseason.
Quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko had some exposure to Fields during the pre-draft process in 2021 while he was the QB coach for the Minnesota Vikings. Meeting a guy over Zoom is one thing. Seeing him go to work every day, whether on the field, in the weight room, or in his playbook, is entirely different.
"Just knew about his demeanor, his work ethic, the type of guy he is, his winning mentality," Janocko said Tuesday. "All that has really been enforced. The way he comes in the building. There's nobody that's going to outwork him that's in this building — coach, player, he's going to be the hardest worker. For me, that's something that, coming in here, I had hoped for. It was definitely something that was enforced from the minute he and I first got together."
This is a crucial season for Fields and the Bears. Year 2 is typically the season in which young quarterbacks take their most significant leap. Having a franchise quarterback is the most important part of any rebuild. If you have a star-caliber QB, you can contend for titles. It doesn't matter how good the rest of the roster is if you don't.
It's no secret the Bears didn't make many moves this offseason to support Fields. The offensive line remains a massive unknown, and the lack of playmakers at wide receiver sticks out like a sore thumb when staring at the roster.
That can be a detriment to a young quarterback's growth.
However, sometimes a talent is so exceptional it thrives regardless of the situation around him.
The Bears need Fields to be such a transcendent talent.
To Janocko, he has "tools you can't coach." Tools Patrick has had a front-row seat to witness.
"Fast," Patrick said of his impressions of Fields. 'He can get moving pretty quick.
"He's young, so he likes to have the juice and the energy. He's got a live arm. I mean, there were a few throws he made today where that ball – it's like it keeps getting faster in the air. "
Entering Year 1 of a rebuild, expectations are low for the Bears this coming season. They seem destined for a 6-11 season. Their ceiling might be 7-10.
And yet, if Fields takes the leap the Bears believe he is capable of, the win-loss record won't matter.
All the great NFL quarterbacks have certain things in common, no matter their skillset. Backup quarterback Trevor Siemian has spent time in quarterback rooms with Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. He has seen greatness up close and knows what those two Canton-bound signal-callers had that others don't. He sees Fields checking those boxes.
"Intelligence, being accurate with the ball — there's certain prerequisites you have to have to play at a high level, and Justin's got it," Siemian said Tuesday. "He's got all the tools. Just around him, we've got to play well around him and give him a chance. But yeah, he's got everything."
Greatness shows itself on the field. But the process of becoming great starts when no one is watching. It's the realization of a vision built by the constant strengthening of mind and body.
The NFL will crush even the most gifted quarterback if he doesn't have the desire, discipline, and fortitude to work at honing his craft.
From Manning and Brees to Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes, the truly great quarterbacks take supreme athletic gifts and support them with unmatched work ethic because being great is all that matters.
"You hear the stories on some of the great guys when they come into the building, they're ready to go," Janocko said. "They're prepared mentally, they're prepared with what they did the night before, and then they're prepared to come in. This is what they do, and this is what they want to be great at, so that's what you see from him."
A heavy burden lies on Justin Fields' shoulders. But, if he's the budding star many believe, the Bears' rebuild accelerates and the future brightens immediately.
Having a great quarterback changes a franchise's fortunes overnight. All indications are that Fields is doing everything in his power to reach and exceed his lofty potential.