Putting one foot in front of the other: How the Chicago Bears are positioning QB Justin Fields to succeed

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The second-year jump the Chicago Bears hope to see in quarterback Justin Fields began with changing two steps this offseason.

Left foot forward, right foot back in his shotgun stance.

It may not be a coincidence that Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers also puts his left foot forward, considering Bears first-year offensive coordinator Luke Getsy was Rodgers’ quarterbacks coach the past three seasons.

"It's just what they do in their offense," Fields said. "It times it better with the routes and stuff like that, so that's why we do it."

Footwork. Timing. Pocket presence. These are among the areas the Bears are trying to help Fields improve on as he heads into his second NFL season.

Like many quarterbacks drafted high, Fields -- the No. 11 overall pick in 2021 -- will be expected to make a second-year jump. But as he adjusts to a new coaching staff’s system, an offensive line with four new starters and a receiving corps with one proven target, it may be more realistic to expect Fields to take a few steps forward, rather than a major leap.

His next test will be Thursday night in Seattle against the Seahawks (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). Starters are expected to play at least two series -- anywhere from six to 10 plays.

“Last year, I think people said footwork, but there would be no real meaning behind that,” Fields’ personal quarterbacks coach Quincy Avery said. “But I think when this new coaching staff is talking about putting an emphasis on footwork, it’s because some of the drops they have are a little bit different, or the timing of the footwork is not necessarily the same as the things that he did last season, and a lot of the play-action concepts they have are a bit different.”

The Bears are also hoping better footwork leads to improved pocket presence and fewer sacks. Fields was sacked 36 times in 11 games last season, the highest rate in the league.

And he admits one of the reasons is because he held onto the ball too long. Fields averaged 2.91 seconds before the pass last season (sixth highest -- NFL average was 2.77 seconds), according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

“You have to listen to your feet a lot more at our level,” Getsy said. “And when your feet tell you that a guy’s not open, it’s time to move on and go. You can’t hang on.

“That’s the biggest thing. I think it’s just the pace, it’s the time clock that we’re training the heck out of. I think he’s starting to do a really good job with it.”

Fields was sacked twice in the Bears’ preseason opener vs. the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday, but progress -- for the entire offense -- will have to be measured incrementally, especially considering the massive changes from last season.

“I had to learn a new offense last year, and then coming into this year, I had to learn a new offense,” Fields said. “So that's been the biggest challenge, for sure.”

One challenge he’s not facing this season is trying to earn the starting job. Fields, 23, became a starter in Week 3 last season after Andy Dalton got hurt. Fields played through Week 11, then dealt with injuries the last few weeks.

It’s his team this season, for better or worse.

“I mean, he’s 23, right?" Getsy said. "You can only get that [improvement] by playing. And practice is great, but it’s not a game.

“Pocket presence is not an easy thing to teach. But he’s got the toughness and the guts to do it. When you’re evaluating quarterbacks, that’s one of the first things I’m looking for -- somebody to have that willingness to stand in there, make your throw with your feet in the ground and get smacked in the jaw. He definitely has that.”

Fields did that against the Chiefs, delivering a 19-yard strike to wide receiver Tajae Sharpe while getting hit. But on another play, Getsy thought Fields vacated the pocket too quickly on a scramble, when he rolled to his right and slid for no gain to avoid getting hit.

That was the one play Getsy said he wanted back because Fields bailed on the second read in his progression.

“I love the way he responded after that play,” Getsy said. “He didn't let the last play affect the next play, which was something that we've been working really hard on from spring. Whenever he threw an interception or something this spring, the next play was bad, too. He didn’t have that show up at all [against Kansas City]. So that was good.”

It was early in the offseason when the coaches and Fields dissected film to know which habits and techniques they needed to deconstruct.

“It was just establishing what we want things to look like, and how we want to play with the demeanor, the poise, everything that we want,” Bears quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko said. “I don’t think we ever really said, ‘Hey, we’re going to fix this, or we’re going to look at something you did before and totally change it.’

“We just established, 'Hey, this is who we want to be. This is how we think we can be successful.'”

And Fields bought into the new system.

“For me, personally, I have more confidence going into this season,” he said. “Year 1, you really didn't know what to expect.”

Expectations for Year 2 aren’t much different. For now, it’s just about putting one foot in front of the other.