Matt Nagy is approaching the third preseason game in 2021 similar to how he’d handle the fourth preseason game in the past: The Week 1 starting quarterback will not play.
The Chicago Bears coach told reporters that starter Andy Dalton would sit out Saturday’s preseason game against the Tennessee Titans. Rookie Justin Fields will get the start and is expected to play about two quarters.
Nagy added that some — but not all — starters will see time with Fields, particularly along the O-line.
The pecking order underscores the Bears’ continued insistence that Dalton is the Week 1 starter, despite preseason struggles from the veteran quarterback.
Saturday’s bout versus Tennessee will mark a significant chance for Fields to show improvement. Getting to play with a few starters should be beneficial for the rookie, who has been alongside backups for the most part.
“For us, it’s all about just getting better so we just want to see him play hard and play well,” Nagy said of Fields. “The variables are different, right? He’s not out there, just like Andy hasn’t been out there, with some of those one receivers. All’s I want to see from him is just play a good game of football at the quarterback position and, again, keep the big picture in mind for all of us.”
Nagy noted that Fields, who has brought a spark when on the field, is ahead of where the team projected him before training camp.
Still, it’s not enough to give Fields a shot at bypassing Dalton for the starting gig. No matter how well the rookie plays Saturday, Nagy has made it abundantly clear Dalton will be the starter. How long the veteran remains so will depend on his performance and that of the team.
The Bears open the season prime time in L.A. versus the Rams before taking on Dalton’s former Bengals squad in Week 2 and the Browns in Week 3. The schedule softens in Week 4 when Chicago hosts the Lions. It could be at that point Nagy pulls the trigger on a QB change unless Dalton shines.
Saturday’s preseason action will be Fields’ final chance to develop against an opposing defense. There are strides for the young QB to make, ranging from how quick he gets through his reads to ensuring he has the proper protections called.
Nagy didn’t answer directly when asked how he’d know when Fields would be ready to take over the starting role.
“Part of the evaluation process is, you say to yourself, where did you think Justin was going to be through training camp, and is he where you thought? Is it a little bit better? Is it a little bit worse? And we feel really good with where he’s at,” Nagy said. “I would say for sure that for his level of where a lot of rookies are at this point in time, he’s passed that test. You see what I’m saying? So that’s a good thing, we know that. But now it’s just growth for every one of these quarterbacks, Justin included.
“Everybody has a different story on how they get to the top, right? Every quarterback in this league has a different story, and there’s good examples of guys that have played from Day 1 as a rookie, right? There’s great examples of that. There’s also great examples of guys that haven’t played Day 1, and they’ve sat a little bit. … We have to create our own how we do that. The only thing we can do is worry about having those guys just continue to just fight every day and just be awesome in practice, mentally be smart and be productive and always be prepared. That’s one thing with those three guys, they will always be prepared. So, that’s how we look at it.”
Dalton will begin the season under center, but with Fields nipping at his heels already, it’s only a matter of time before the rookie inevitably takes over.
Facing Aaron Donald and the Rams D behind a banged-up struggling offensive line doesn’t bode well for Dalton’s first game. From there, we’ll see how much rope Nagy gives the veteran signal-caller. With most of Chicago already calling for Fields to start, the pressure will only mount if the Bears stumble out of the gate.
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