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MVP? Generational QB? Expectations for Justin Fields should focus on improving

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Monday, one ESPN analyst claimed that Justin Fields was going to play like an MVP in 2023.

Tuesday, another one said that Fields will be the franchise quarterback for which Bears fans have waited their entire lives.

Wednesday, Fields was dominated in training camp practice by a Bears defense that was the worst in the league last season.

The disparity between bold predictions and cold reality has never been more stark — and it’s only early August. While some outside Halas Hall tout Fields as the next great quarterback, those inside the Bears’ facility simply want to see growth.

The goal in Fields’ third season: to become at least a league-average passer, to pair that skillset with his other-worldly athleticism and to win far more than five times in 25 pro starts.

Do all that, and the Bears would feel comfortable giving Fields perhaps the largest guaranteed contract in franchise history — well over $100 million — when he’s first eligible to sign a contract extension in January. If Fields can’t, the Bears, who have both their own and the Panthers’ first round pick in 2024, would consider drafting a quarterback from a class stronger than that of 2023. General manager Ryan Poles traded the No. 1 overall selection from that draft rather than replace his quarterback.

Everything Fields does — or doesn’t do — during training camp needs to be viewed in that context.  Before Fields can be the next MVP, or someone after whom Chicagoans name their first-born, he needs to drag the Bears into the middle-tier of passing offenses. That’s a realistic, manageable goal.

As dangerous as it is to judge a quarterback from throw-to-throw — just ask Mitch Trubisky — it’s fair to do so day-to-day during training camp. For Fields, a bad day on a backfield isn’t cause for panic. A few strung together, though, produce a pressure that other established passers —from Patrick Mahomes to even Kirk Cousins — don’t have to carry.

Fans at training camp look for signs of Fields’ growth above all else. But head coach Matt Eberflus said it wasn’t cause for disaster when the defense dominates, as it did Wednesday. Fields was better on Friday and again Saturday, although both were lighter practices.  

“You’re going to have days where one side 一 sometimes it’s going to be pretty equal, which it is most days 一 but there’s gonna be some days where one side dominates the other a little bit, or wins most of the periods or wins most of the plays,” Eberflus said Friday. “That’s gonna happen. That’s going to happen in the course of a game. So, it’s important how we respond both to success and adversity.”

Fields said after Wednesday’s practice that the Bears defense had more “juice” — crackling, intentional energy — than the offense did. He huddled together his offensive teammates and implored them to be more animated. Fields said he would, too — although the quarterback is admittedly a slow burn.

Tight end Robert Tonyan, who spent the last five seasons with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, talked to Fields early Saturday and told him to be himself.

“He’s growing up more into that boisterous leader role, which he wants and he’s reaching —he’s trying to reach those goals of being the leader of this team, more vocally,” he said Saturday. “But he doesn’t always have to be the ‘juice’ guy. Like that’s not a quarterback’s job.”

That falls to receivers, running backs, tight ends and linemen, he said.

“I mean, how old is he? …” he asked of the 24-year-old Fields. “And you’re gonna put the city of Chicago on his back? Like, he’s got enough on his hands.

“He doesn’t have to make sure everyone on his team is bringing the ‘juice’ or the energy. As grown men on this team, we have to hold ourselves accountable as well — and help him out.”

The expectations will keep coming nonetheless. Monday, ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky claimed on “Get Up” that Fields was “going to play MVP-level football” in 2023. He said it was realistic to expect Fields to account for 35 touchdowns this season — which would be more than double his career average through two years.

Tuesday, Mike Greenberg looked into the same “Get Up” camera, rattled off Fields’ high school and college resume. He acknowledged Fields’ struggles — he’d been sacked, fumbled or intercepted 140 times in two years, the most of any quarterback in the NFL — but said he was cut from the same template as the Bills’ Josh Allen and the Eagles’ Jalen Hurts.

“Frankly, he was a better prospect than either of those guys were,” he said.

At the end of his 110-second monologue, Greenberg — a Northwestern alum who worked for Chicago radio stations out of college — said that Bears fans had waited their whole lives for the Bears to employ a star quarterback.

“Write it down,” he said. “Justin Fields is about to be the next superstar quarterback in the NFL.”

Bears fans would love him to be right. But on a backfield during training camp, all they can do — and all they should do — is watch for progress. Unless he gets there first, Fields won’t get where others think he’s headed.



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