Bears rookie QB Justin Fields has proven he’s viable, and it only gets better from here

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It was difficult to get a clear read on Justin Fields in a preseason game that was allegedly supposed to be one last chance for the Bears to gauge his progress before the season.

With a newly stitched together offensive line and none of the Bears’ top skill players dressed against the Titans on Saturday, there wasn’t much Fields could show other than how well he has perfected the art of the handoff and occasionally forcing a third-down throw to receivers who probably won’t make the roster.

If it was too risky to play any of the starting receivers or tight ends, shouldn’t it have been too risky to send Fields out there, too? It’s another contradiction in how the Bears have handled the first several months of what they envision to be a long-term future with Fields.

Then again, what Fields encountered in the first half of the Bears’ 27-24 win could be comparable to what he eventually must deal with as their starter.

The real question isn’t whether Fields is ready for the Bears, but rather whether they’re ready for him. Everything about him points toward him being capable of playing when the Bears open Sept. 12. But make no mistake, whenever he plays, it’s going to be difficult.

Sure, Allen Robinson, Darnell Mooney, David Montgomery and others should be playing then, but this is the best offensive line the Bears can manufacture. And they’ve put on some dreadful offensive performances under coach Matt Nagy even when they had their full personnel.

The team was limited to 350 or fewer yards 20 times over the last two seasons and held to 25 or fewer points 24 times.

All of that being said, the Bears can’t wait until everything is perfect to play Fields. Who knows how long that could take?

There is a long line of quarterbacks, like Andy Dalton and Nick Foles, who need everything else in place for them to succeed. It sounds dangerous to throw him in against demolition men like the Rams’ Aaron Donald, but they can’t hide him forever. And he’s built to beat defenses of that caliber.

The Bears drafted Fields because his talent could put him in the tier of quarterbacks who elevate everything around them and offsets shortfalls the way Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers do.

Fields gave a glimpse of that on his final play before jogging to the locker room at halftime and calling it a night.

With just under a minute left in the half, he was a moment from being sacked from either the left or right, but stepped up and ran from it. As he rolled right, he threw a 20-yard strike to fully covered tight end Jesper Horsted in the end zone. It was a narrow opening before Horsted’s momentum would’ve taken him out of bounds, and Fields hit it the way Mahomes would.

It doesn’t matter who was on the field at that point. That’s a remarkable play that many quarterbacks don’t have any business even trying to make. If he can throw open a No. 4 tight end who is likely headed for the practice squad, imagine what he’ll do with Jimmy Graham and Cole Kmet.

The rest of Fields’ night was forgettable: 6 of 9 completions for 34 yards in an extremely bland game plan that also led to the Bears running nine times for 32 yards. It wasn’t revealing and it wasn’t meant to be.

But that touchdown pass outshined everything else.

And it didn’t come out of nowhere. Fields has been making similar throws in practice over the past month and providing many other indicators that he’s primed to be a star and doesn’t need the red-shirt season the Bears plotted for him. He persistently pushes past mistakes. He’s elusive and prudent as a runner. His accuracy on deep balls is something the Bears have been missing for a long time.

That red-shirt plan is for quarterbacks who need extensive development to adjust to the NFL. Fields isn’t a project. There’s no guessing about what he can be. He’s not coming into this with 13 collegiate starts like Mitch Trubisky. He was overwhelming in two seasons at Ohio State, he was the second-best quarterback in college football and there’s every reason to think he’ll continue on that trajectory in the NFL.

Waiting just to wait isn’t a good reason to keep Fields on the bench. Predicating his playing time on whether Dalton flounders or gets hurt doesn’t make sense, either.

The Bears have so much riding on Fields, that there’s no time to waste. As soon as he proves he’s at least viable, it’s time to let him learn on the job. The more he plays, the better he’ll get. Start the clock on that now.

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