Justin Fields has many valuable traits, but if the Bears made a list of the qualities that compelled them to trade up and draft him No. 11 overall, his speed would be at the top.
It makes him an uncommon quarterback for a franchise so starved for athleticism at the position that Jim Harbaugh in the early 1990s qualifies as their most recent running threat. It’s also new for coach Matt Nagy, who often points to Alex Smith as one of his favorites and, aside from some overlap with Michael Vick in Philadelphia, hasn’t coached anyone like Fields.
So it will require some rethinking by the Bears and Nagy to enhance his unique skill set rather than bend it to traditional quarterback template. Speed has been essential to his success, and it would be a mistake to scrub it out in the interest of making him more conventional.
It’s a relief to hear the Bears sound as if they’re embracing that, though it’s -cautious optimism until they actually show it in games. After impressing as a runner during the preseason, Fields ran six times for 21 yards over his first two starts, and the Bears could use more of that Sunday against the Raiders with running back David Montgomery injured.
“I would imagine there will always be some QB run in Justin’s game,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said Thursday. “Some weeks it might be two plays; some weeks it might be eight. Designed QB runs will be part of the game, and then there will always be some unscripted, for-whatever-reason-it-was-time-to-go part of his game.
“As he gets experience, he’s going to decide, split-second, ‘I’m hanging in here for this one because I know this play and it’s about to come open,’ or, ‘I don’t like how it looks; I can go and get it.’ His whole career, he’ll be balancing those things.”
So will the Bears, especially Nagy, who remains the architect of the game plan even with Lazor calling plays.
If it sounds overly suspicious to raise this concern after two starts by Fields, remember that it was part of the problem with the Bears’ last first-round quarterback, Mitch Trubisky. That wouldn’t have worked out anyway, but it certainly didn’t help that they drafted him in large part because of his athleticism, then Nagy insisted he could “win from the pocket,” when he could not.
Fields looks as if he can win from anywhere. He fired deep shots against the Lions from the pocket, is adept at throwing on rollouts and has wide-receiver-level speed at his disposal. That mix should give Lazor and Nagy limitless ideas, and there’s no sense in narrowing the number of ways he can beat a defense.
“You never want to lose what he has with that speed,” Nagy said, pointing to a third-and-four against the Lions when the pocket crumbled and Fields raced past safety Will Harris for 11 yards. “A lot [of quarterbacks] can’t do that.
“At the same point in time, Justin will be the first to tell you that he wants to be the best quarterback he can be, and so that’s our job: teaching him the game.”
But running can be part of being a great quarterback, and that better be part of his education. Russell Wilson and Cam Newton went to Super Bowls doing it that way. Lamar Jackson won an MVP. Kyler Murray might win it this season.
And for Fields, his running ability is -integral, not ancillary.
“There are some quarterbacks you’re seeing like Justin that have elite arm talent downfield and all that stuff, but can also do things that scare defenses with their legs,” Nagy acknowledged. “You see it throughout the league.”
Except with the Bears. And now is the perfect time to change that.