Justin Fields flashed a lot of his potential in 2021. It wasn’t always pretty. However, people remember the biggest highlights. Everything from his bombing of the Lions at Soldier Field to his incredible fight against the 49ers. His athletic talent is off the chart. It was frustrating to see the Chicago Bears 1st round pick fight in most other aspects of his position. People seemed to focus most on his processing speed.
Part of playing quarterback in the NFL is being able to read defenses pre-snap and post-snap. The best can recognize when a receiver is covered and quickly move on to the next option. Too often last year, it felt like Fields had a bad habit of lingering on his first read, holding the ball. This led to unnecessary hits, sacks, and fumbles. He has not yet learned the importance of timing and rhythm in the passing game.
That’s not his fault.
A lot of college quarterbacks don’t learn that. They never have to. They rely on a mix of their exceptional talent and going against weaker defenses in college, so it’s unnecessary. Elite blockers and weapons surrounded Fields at Ohio State. He was able to hold onto the ball quite often without worrying about the pass and took off running whenever it managed to get close. Such luxuries do not exist in the NFL. Everyone is good at this level.
So Fields had to adapt. Everything about his process needed speeding up. Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy adjusted his footwork while quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko helped shorten his throwing motion. Then it became a matter of teaching him how to operate inside the pocket, trusting that his feet will lead him through progressions. Based on recent training camp video clips, progress has been made.
— Clay Harbor (@clayharbs82) August 11, 2022
Note how often Fields gets the ball out when he hits his back step.
There are fewer occasions to take an extra trouble or two waiting for the open man. He hits the end of his drop and the ball goes out. Even more encouraging is his willingness to take more control downs. He’s not constantly looking for the big play. When the defense doesn’t give him the look he wants, Fields gets it to the running backs. Head coach Matt Eberflus singled out his quarterback for those reasons after practice.
“The offense came out really well. We had that red zone, then we backed him up to the high red, the rim area, and I thought they worked really well. His timing is getting better and it’s really, for him, that’s really good because how do you get the timing down with different receivers? For him to be able to do that, that says a lot, to me. We’re excited where he’s at on that front, for sure.”
Justin Fields is becoming a more complete player.
That should be terrifying for the rest of the NFL. He’s already a nightmare for defenses to game plan against. Not only does he boast a big arm with excellent depth accuracy, but he also has 4.41 speed as a runner. His versatility puts so much pressure on opponents to cover every part of the field. If he is able to learn how to play from the pocket with his eyes? There may be nothing anyone can do to stop him.
He has yet to prove it in real games. That is always the big test. Still, seeing him do this against a Bears defense with several of his offensive weapons nursing injuries is impressive. His camp wasn’t spectacular, but the improvements are impossible to ignore. This does not seem like the blind optimistic days of Mitch Trubisky, Rex Grossman and other 1st round picks. Justin Fields looks like a potential franchise QB, and he’s getting a little better every day.
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