LAKE FOREST, Ill. – The Chicago Bears planned to have Justin Fields adjust to the NFL while watching from the sideline as a backup to veteran Andy Dalton.
Well, so much for that.
Fields is set to make his first start when the Bears visit the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
Coach Matt Nagy said Wednesday the team will go with the prized rookie quarterback with Dalton sidelined because of a left knee injury.
“Justin's gonna be our starter,” he said. “His prep starts ... right now.”
Nagy said Dalton remains the team's No. 1 quarterback for now and the plan is for him to be the starter when he is healthy. Nagy said the three-time Pro Bowler is week to week, though the Bears don't think he will be placed on injured reserve. Super Bowl 52 MVP Nick Foles will be the backup quarterback.
Fields got his first extended look last week in a 20-17 win over Cincinnati when he took over on Chicago’s final drive in the first half after getting in a handful of plays earlier in the game. He led the Bears the rest of the way.
Fans have been calling for the team to go with the former Ohio State star since trading up nine spots with the New York Giants to draft him with the No. 11 overall pick. And now, they'll get their wish.
“I think I’m ready," Fields said. "I’ve been preparing for this moment for a long time. My mindset doesn’t change, I’m still going to have to play my football and just prepare the best I can. Like I said before, get a lot of practice reps and study, study, study, and get more comfortable and confident with the plays and stuff like that."
The Bears signed Dalton to be the starter when he agreed to a one-year, $10 million contract in March. They stuck with that plan after drafting Fields. Either way, they're banking on the rookie to develop in a way Mitchell Trubisky did not.
Fields gets a big opportunity on Sunday. He sees a chance to help establish himself as the starter even if the Bears plan to go with Dalton once he's healthy.
“I think every time I go in, I have that mindset,” Fields said. "Of course, I’m going to go out there on Sunday and play my best and just try to come out with the win and that’s my main focus. My main focus isn’t winning the starting job. I think that’s going to come with time, so my main focus right now is just to prepare the best I can and go out Sunday and execute at a high level.”
It would be hard to envision the Bears going back to Dalton if Fields performs well in his absence and the team wins.
“When that time comes, there’s a lot of stuff that can happen between now and then," Nagy said. "I don’t really want to go there other than just saying when Andy is healthy, he’s our starter.”
Fields, who ran for a touchdown in a season-opening loss at the Los Angeles Rams, showed some promise against Cincinnati with his mobility and ability to squeeze passes into tight spots. But by his own admission, it wasn’t a great outing. He completed 6 of 13 passes for 60 yards and threw an interception late in the game that led to a touchdown. He also ran for 31 yards after being in on just five plays the previous week.
Fields took the final three snaps of the possession after Dalton was injured on a 14-yard run early in the second quarter against his former team. Dalton was in for the next drive before Fields led Chicago’s final series of the half.
Now, it's not clear when the veteran will play again.
Dalton got off to a good start against the Bengals. He led a touchdown drive on the game's opening possession, finishing it with an 11-yarder to Allen Robinson, and completed 9 of 11 passes for 56 yards.
“There’s a human element when you play sports and these relationships that we all build. ... But his situation, that’s real. You feel for him," Nagy said.
Fields, meanwhile, gets a chance to show how ready he is to lead the Bears. He has impressed teammates since he arrived.
“Man, just seeing how much fun he has (in practice) after throws a ball,” receiver Marquise Goodwin said. “Whether it’s incomplete or complete, he’s back there, he’s celebrating. Or if it’s incomplete, he’s like `ugh,' he’s smiling, he’s having fun. At the end of the day, if you’re not having fun, then why are you doing it? So, I love to see that.”
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