by Andrew Seligman
LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Justin Fields donned his cap and gown and walked in Ohio State’s graduation ceremony two weeks ago, another big moment for him in a stadium where he produced so many.
The former Heisman Trophy finalist earned a degree in consumer and family financial services.
“I think at the age of 11 or 12 I made a promise to my dad, we were in the car on the way to baseball practice, baseball game or something like that,” Fields said. “And he made me promise him that. It was a great moment for my family. My sister graduated a week after that. It was a great two weeks for my family and everybody was excited.”
It’s been a big offseason for Fields.
The Bears went all in on their quarterback, acquiring receiver DJ Moore in a trade and adding to their offensive line. They’re counting on Fields to graduate to another level as a passer and lift an offense that ranked among the NFL’s worst.
“It’s a great feeling,” Fields said Tuesday. “Like I said before, it’s just great having that feeling. The coaches trust me, I trust them. Everybody in the building knows the kind of leader and person I am. I’m just excited to be able to lead this team and to be able to reach new heights.”
Fields addressed the media for the first time since the end of the season. And so much has changed.
General manager Ryan Poles made some big moves to boost a team that finished a league-worst 3-14 and set a franchise record for losses.
The Bears traded the No. 1 pick in the draft to quarterback-needing Carolina for a No. 1 receiver, getting Moore and a haul of draft picks. They gave Fields more protection when they took Tennessee tackle Darnell Wright at No. 10, making him the first offensive linemen selected by Chicago in the first round since Kyle Long in 2013. The Bears also signed former Tennessee Titans guard Nate Davis to a three-year, $30 million contract.
The marquee addition was Moore, who had more than 1,100 receiving yards in three of his five seasons with Carolina. And he did that despite a revolving door of quarterbacks.
Moore and Fields are now getting used to each other and trying to develop the chemistry they need to elevate a passing game that ranked last in the NFL. That will take time.
Moore said the two joke with each other quite a bit, but added there’s a “seriousness” in meetings. Moore said he’s been peppering Fields with questions when they’re on the field. And Fields is constantly picking Moore’s brain to learn what he is thinking.
Moore said his focus the next few weeks is “understanding the game within the game” and getting in tune with his quarterback.
Coach Matt Eberflus said he sees the offense coming together.
“You can just see good execution, that they’re on the same page,” coach Matt Eberflus said. “You can just feel that rep after rep. It’s the consistency of it.”
It’s a big year for Fields. He’s entering his third season and would be in line for an extension if he excels.
“I’m not worried about contracts, I’m worried about wins,” he said.
Fields emerged as one of the NFL’s most exciting players last season when he ran for 1,143 yards and finished 63 yards shy of Lamar Jackson’s QB rushing record. He was also sacked 55 times, tying Denver’s Russell Wilson for most in the NFL. But it remains to be seen if he can develop into an elite passer.
Fields lacked playmaking receivers his first two seasons. His protection was, at best, shaky.
Adding Moore to a wide receivers group that includes Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool should take care of the playmaker issue. The moves the Bears made on the offensive line should give their quarterback the time he needs.
That’s the plan, at least. Now, after investing in their quarterback, the Bears are banking on a payoff.
“I mean, it’s awesome for me getting that trust from the coaching staff,” Fields said. “You guys don’t see it, but we communicate here all the time, we trust each other fully.”