Justin Fields’ Year 2 growth could lead to early judgment of Ryan Poles

Fields’ Year 2 outcome could lead to early judgment of Poles originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

LAKE FOREST – The 2022 Bears’ season is all about quarterback Justin Fields development.

The second-year signal-caller had an up-and-down rookie campaign due to a shaky offensive line and an offensive staff that refused to adjust the game plan to fit what he does best.

The result? Fields completed just 58.9 percent of his passes for 1,870 yards, seven touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. Still, Fields showed flashes of his star potential in games against the San Francisco 49ers and Pittsburgh Steelers. Fields’ elite arm talent, rare athleticism, and moments of brilliance were enough to convince most people the Bears had found their franchise quarterback.

All that was left was for the Bears to surround him with the right supporting cast that would allow him to develop into the star his talent suggests.

But general manager Ryan Poles didn’t make any splash signings this offseason. The offensive line was bolstered by Green Bay Packers depth piece Lucas Patrick, Minnesota Vikings cast-off Dakota Dozier (now on IR), fifth-round rookie Braxton Jones, and veteran Riley Reiff.

The skill position acquisitions weren’t much sexier. The Bears added a host of guys with minimal production history to fill out the receiving corps after Darnell Mooney.

Poles has heard the criticism that the Bears haven’t done enough to support Fields heading into Year 2 and that it will be his fault if the young quarterback fails.

His response? The plan to rebuild the Bears around Fields is intricate and cannot be completed in one offseason.

“Listen, when we’re building this thing, that was the goal coming in is to try and surround him with the best talent that we can,” Poles said Thursday. “But at the same time, I’ve never gotten in the way of we have to try and build the entire roster. I’m not going to overreach and do things crazy to get a name or anything. Our approach has been consistent from the draft all the way through. We’re going to continue to add talent all around, the best that we can, it might not be the name or a name that everyone wants to hear, but we’re going to develop the players that we have here. We’re going to continue to fight to make that [the receiving corps] the best unit that we can.

“Mooney is balling right now. I’m excited about him. That’s going to help Justin. I’m excited about Cole [Kmet]. I think our protections and our O-line’s gotten before. Some of the guys have been a little dinged up, so it’s hard to see everything. But when they get back, I’m excited about that. I’m excited about Velus [Jones Jr.] coming in and making plays and being a factor that can do different things and bring speed.

“I understand that to do it all right away, that’s hard to do with some of the resources that you have. So over time, we’re going to continue to do that. That’s always in our head is to put our quarterback in the best situation.”

It’s easy to look at the Bears’ personnel moves this offseason and conclude that Poles and Eberflus don’t believe in Fields.

But their most significant move suggests otherwise.

The hiring of Luke Getsy as offensive coordinator can unlock Fields. Getsy’s offense, an offshoot of the Shanahan wide-zone scheme, can help Fields excel in Year 2 despite the lack of proven support around him. Getsy’s system promises to play to Fields’ strengths, using play-action, bootlegs, and naked concepts to get Fields on the move while cutting the field in half to set up easier throws.

That was on full display during the Bears’ preseason finale against the Cleveland Browns, in which Fields went 14-for-16 for 156 yards and three touchdowns.

All offseason, the Bears have worked with Fields to fine tune his footwork, tighten his mechanics, improve pocket presence, and embrace being the team leader. Poles have seen the fruits of Fields’ labor.

“I think there’s progress being made,” Poles said. “He looked comfortable. I think before, again, I kind of talked about all of this, his technique and his fundamentals and his feet, and then the new offense, the new coaches, the new system, there’s a lot going on both physically and mentally. So, I thought as the preseason has played out and even practice you could see things start to slow down and him read defenses quicker and pull the trigger and it was really cool to see him finish up that way.”

With Week 1 just 10 days away, the spotlight will go back on Fields’ supporting cast.

As of Thursday, the Bears have just four healthy receivers on the active roster. One of them, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, was brought in Thursday after the Bears placed N’Keal Harry on short-term injured reserve.

The offensive line has started to coalesce, with Teven Jenkins seemingly taking over the right guard spot and Larry Borom locking up right tackle.

No matter how much improvement the Bears believe they made during the summer months, they will still be at a talent disadvantage in almost every game. It will be incumbent on Fields to play at an elite level to make up the difference.

How Justin Fields develops this season will determine the direction of Poles’ rebuild. The 23-year-old has all the tools to be an elite NFL quarterback.

Whether or not Poles and the Bears have done enough to keep him on track to ascend to that level remains to be seen.

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