Whether or not he’s mastered pre-snap protocols, or post-snap progressions, Justin Fields is ready for his opportunity to take over as the Bears starting quarterback. Throughout the summer and early parts of the season, Fields has maintained a quiet confidence about his prospects of starting in the NFL. At times that confidence has come through so clearly it exuded a sense that he feels destined to be a starter.
“I know I’m meant for this,” Fields said after Sunday’s game against the Bengals. “I’m meant to be here. My path here has been crazy. When I was younger, I never thought I would be here in this position. I’m here for a reason.”
So it should come as no surprise that when Fields got word from Matt Nagy that he would be the man against the Browns in Week 3, Fields took it in stride.
“He was pretty stoic,” Nagy said. “I think you guys can probably all imagine how he was. He’s a guy that has a lot of confidence in himself in a good way. It rubs off onto his teammates, to his coaches. You feel it, you understand it, you appreciate it. He was pretty stoic.”
“I think I had a good idea that I might possibly start, so I wasn't really surprised by it,” Fields said. “Just kind of focused and just trying to get prepared for Sunday.”
Fields was so locked-in on the opportunity, and making the most of it, that he said he didn’t even take time to reflect on his journey, or the milestone in front of him.
“I'm trying to keep all the outside distractions out of the way and focus on Sunday and prepare the best I can,” Fields said. “I think I’m ready. 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.”
But as Fields said, he didn’t always think this way. There was a time, seven or eight years ago, when if you told Fields he’d be getting ready for his first NFL start he wouldn’t believe you. But as he continued to play, and continued to play well, he began to see himself in this scenario. Along the way he learned how to deal with his nerves, too.
“I definitely learned from past experiences, past first starts,” Fields said. “I still remember my first start in high school, I was nervous as can be. I think being more this way just being stoic and being even-keeled, I think that just keeps my mind calm and allows me to think more.”
That confidence isn’t just limited to pregame preparations, either. Both his teammates and coaches notice it in the huddle and in his play.
“I think he’s had some of the calmest feet that I’ve been around with a quarterback,” Nagy said. “He’s really calm in the pocket. He feels comfortable in the pocket. But the thing is that’s good for us and the Bears is that he feels comfortable outside the pocket, too.”
That being said, the Bears will still try to install plays and concepts to give Fields as smooth an onramp as possible.
“There's some plays that we knew from months ago that he just likes right away, so that he can feel comfortable,” Nagy said. “He wants to know where everything’s at and how to get there. You know the game— as he saw the other day— that the game can pick up and the different fronts and stunts and coverages and things that you see is different. And we know that. We understand that. So we want to help him with that so he can play fast, or at least as fast as he can.”
Beyond the X’s and O’s and the prep work and the practice, Nagy has other advice for Fields ahead of his first start. Simpler advice.
“Just trust your instincts. Play the way you’ve played your entire career… And play loose.
“Have fun too... Go out there and trust your teammates. Don’t try to be out there and be a hero. Just go out there and play. Play football. Be a great quarterback for this game and see where it takes you the rest of the year.”