Aug 31, 2022
Courtney CroninESPN Staff Writer
- Covered the 49ers, Raiders and Warriors for the San Jose Mercury News. She joined ESPN in 2017.
CHICAGO — As Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields was struggling through his debut being an NFL starter contrary to the Browns last Sept. 26, his father, Pablo, visited a concessions stand in Cleveland’s FirstEnergy Stadium.
A self-proclaimed “nervous wreck” during Justin’s games, Pablo won’t sit with anyone but his wife, JoAnn, during games, and he doesn’t wear a “Fields” jersey because he doesn’t want those conversations. But with this day, it had been unavoidable as he stood in line.
“I assume Fields wasn’t ready,” a fan thought to Pablo, unaware he was talking with the QB’s father.
Pablo, a retired Atlanta officer of 30 years, didn’t need confirmation things weren’t going well. Justin was sacked nine times in a 26-6 loss.
“If you are for the reason that storm, you hate it as a parent,” Pablo said. “You hate it for the kid, but I’ve always seen them developing stronger on the other hand.”
The storm raged throughout Fields’ rookie season. Out of 31 qualifiers, he ranked last in QBR at 26.4, and he was sacked 36 times in 11 games, the best rate in the NFL. The Bears finished 6-11 and fired head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace.
The Bears aren’t likely to improve much this year — their over-under is six wins — but those near Fields are optimistic he’ll take the next phase in his development. They’ve seen him persevere through struggles in senior high school and college, and they’ve seen the task he has devote this offseason.
For Fields, it’s about embracing the procedure of improving, rather than attempting to forget what happened last season.
“When you’ve been doing something such a long time, you begin to love it a growing number of,” Fields said. “And I really like the failure that is included with it. I really like everything that includes it, because I understand that by the end of your day, that so long as I give my best, and I understand what I could do, I understand that after we reach our full potential, what we’ll have the ability to do.”
It didn’t take miss the 23-year-old to clarify his remark.
“Yeah, we have to roll that back,” Fields said with fun. “I don’t love failing, nevertheless, you have to have the ability to understand how to bounce back, understand how to get back for the reason that mindset and obtain back rolling.”
It hadn’t rained any place in Cobb County, located northwest of Atlanta, on Sept. 1, 2017. But on your day Fields’ Harrison SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL team traveled to rival North Cobb, the skies exposed, and the storm appeared to hover on the field.
The slick conditions took a toll. With Harrison supported in its red zone, Fields fumbled on back-to-back possessions, both resulting in North Cobb touchdowns.
Fields finished up throwing for just two TDs and running for just two more, but Harrison lost that night, and things got worse for Fields on Oct. 19 when he broke the index finger on his throwing hand throughout a nationally televised game. His senior season was over.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart was in attendance the night time Fields injured his finger, because Fields — the country’s top recruit — had focused on play for the Bulldogs.
Fields’ college choice was a meaningful decision for the household. Justin’s sister, Jaiden, had focused on Georgia as a softball recruit 2 yrs earlier, before her freshman year at Harrison High.
Jaiden said her mom pictured the siblings having picnics in the campus courtyard while attending exactly the same university, that was located significantly less than two hours from their hometown of Kennesaw, Georgia.
But that dream assumed Justin would continue his football ascent. Fields played sporadically as a freshman, completing 27 passes for 328 yards and four TDs, but he was struggling to unseat starting sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm, who helped Georgia to its first SEC title in 12 years as a freshman.
There is also an incident when a Georgia baseball player allegedly shouted racist remarks at Fields throughout a football game and was subsequently dismissed from the team.
So after one season at Georgia, Fields made a decision to transfer to Ohio State. In the waiver application to get immediate eligibility, Fields’ lawyer, Tom Mars, said the transfer had “nothing in connection with racism.”
The timing of Fields’ re-locate of his Athens apartment turned what is a joyous occasion for the household right into a bittersweet day for Pablo and JoAnn, who have been moving Jaiden into her dorm room at Georgia that same day.
“My mom was there moving me in, and my father was helping move him out,” Jaiden said. “She was taking stuff out of my dad’s truck to set up my room, plus they were taking stuff out of his room to place back the truck.”
Once he landed in Columbus, Fields never looked back.
The Buckeyes were the top-ranked team in the united kingdom and hadn’t trailed by double digits all season before Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 8, 2019. Wisconsin led 21-7 at the half, and its own pressure was addressing Fields, who was simply sacked 3 x while wearing a brace on his left knee to safeguard a sprained ligament.
But after going 7-of-14 passing in the initial half, Fields completed 12 of 17 attempts in the next half and threw three touchdown passes to lead OSU to the faculty Football Playoff with a 34-21 victory.
Fields finished third in Heisman Trophy voting that season, and his leadership at OSU wasn’t confined to statistical achievements.
Following the Big Ten announced it had been canceling its 2020 football season amid pandemic concerns, Fields started a petition for the conference to reinstate the growing season and invite players the average person choice to opt out.
Fields thought we would stay static in Columbus and train. Others followed suit. The Big Ten ultimately reversed its decision and opted to play a shortened season.
“Even though we thought we weren’t likely to have a season, he kept the spirit up and always kept us ready to go,” said former Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson, who’s currently with the NY Jets. “He ensured the receivers were consistently getting their work in.
“Once the season came around and we surely got to play, I felt enjoy it came together effectively due to those reasons.”
Fields’ on-field leadership was on display in 2020, from enough time he ran down and blocked a defender to permit running back Trey Sermon an obvious path toward the finish zone against Michigan State, to his quick recovery from the blow to the ribs delivered by Clemson linebacker James Skalski in the 2021 Sugar Bowl.
James Skalski was needed targeting and ejected following this hit on Justin Fields. pic.twitter.com/0oqTQCTEDi
ESPN (@espn) January 2, 2021
After limping to the sideline to obtain evaluated by trainers, Fields returned and threw a touchdown on his first play back. Two of his best passes came later, when he linked to Chris Olave for a 56-yard touchdown before launching a 45-yard TD pass to Jameson Williams.
“It is the way he gets hurt, he would go to the sidelines, he gets tested by the doctors and he will come in immediately and throws a touchdown pass,” Ohio State quarterbacks’ coach Corey Dennis said, recalling what made as soon as special. “That just speaks to his leadership, just the love of his teammates is he was gonna keep coming back in and he was gonna finish that drive.”
Fields’ six-touchdown performance in the national semifinal make an impression on Clemson was the highlight of his junior year. He helped lead OSU to a 7-1 season, which ended with a 52-24 loss to Alabama in the CFP National Championship. Fields was the initial quarterback to steer Ohio State to back-to-back playoff appearances.
In two seasons, Fields led the Buckeyes to a 20-2 record, finishing second in history in OSU history in touchdowns (63) and completion percentage (68.4), and 10th in history in yards (5,373). He finished seventh in Heisman voting in 2020.
90 days after that make an impression on Clemson, the Bears traded around draft him with the 11th overall pick in 2021.
The Bears’ insufficient stability at quarterback is a punchline for a long time, also it doesn’t help they play in exactly the same division as Green Bay, where Aaron Rodgers has been the starter since 2008. And he succeeded Brett Favre, who was simply the starter for 16 years prior.
The Bears experienced 16 starting quarterbacks in the 14 years since Rodgers took over. Rodgers joked last season he could name all of them, but he ran out of time trying.
“I cannot wait to function as first someone to change that,” Fields said of the Bears’ QB woes. “That’s my mindset. I’m excited for the task.”
To get ready, Fields caused his personal quarterbacks coach, Quincy Avery, three days weekly in Georgia through the offseason. Those 90-minute sessions centered on honing his footwork, pocket drills, rhythm throws and hitch throws.
But 1 / 2 of Avery’s job was making certain Fields didn’t wear himself out. Who owns QB Takeover even implemented a throw count.
“Justin’s not somebody who’s super patient at all,” Avery said. “He really wants to function as best immediately, and I respect that. I don’t try to slow him down at all from that process.”
Fields’ teammates have noticed an improvement.
“I prearranged in the incorrect formation,” Bears wide receiver Byron Pringle said, recalling how he happened accountable by Fields throughout a practice. “But that’s what quarterbacks do. That’s leadership. That isn’t him harping through to me, or nothing beats that.”
Tight end Cole Kmet noticed how Fields no more just repeats the playcalls he gets from the sideline, he tells his teammates what the plays are.
“There is a difference for the reason that,” Kmet said. “You merely feel him in the huddle.”
Using one play during Chicago’s preseason make an impression on Kansas City, the quarterback vacated the pocket prematurely and slid for no gain. It had been what happened afterward that convinced new Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy that Fields keeps growing in to the role.
“He didn’t allow last play affect another play, that is something that we have been working very difficult on from spring,” Getsy said. “Whenever he threw an interception or something in the spring, another play was bad, too.”
If preseason performances are any indication, Fields is ready for the standard season. He completed 14 of 16 passes for 156 yards and three touchdowns — no interceptions — contrary to the Browns in the Bears’ finale on Saturday. His quarterback rating was 146.9, just off an ideal score of 158.3.
Fields was ready that night in FirstEnergy Stadium, and today he’ll have to be able to prove he’s prepared to meet perhaps his biggest challenge yet.
Contributing: ESPN Jets reporter Rich Cimini