Chicago Bears Blog: Justin Fields can be helped by improving his offensive line during the draft.

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Chicago Bears quarterback Justin FieldsHe paused for a moment to think about his answer.

“Do I think I was always put in the best position to succeed? Um, you know, I don't know,” Fields said during Chicago’s recent voluntary minicamp. “But at the end of the day, that doesn't matter. You just have to handle what you've got and try to make the best out of it.”

Fields’ rookie year was loaded with ups and downs. He battled injuries, had the NFL’s highest rate of interceptions and sacks, the third-most fumbles among starting quarterbacks (12) and recorded the lowest QBR (26.4) over the last three seasons. That was set against the backdrop of a 6-11 season that resulted in an overhaul of the team’s leadership, including the firing of coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace.

But it wasn’t all terrible for Fields. He improved in each of his last five starts, and he improved as a passer. He showed improvement in his deep ball and increased his completion rate from 37% – 50% for throws over 20-plus yards. He used his skills outside of the pocket better (his QBR in this area rose to 9.6 to 54.1), and he showed the athleticism that led to the Bears trading up to draft him 11th overall.

With the NFL draft (ESPN, ABC and ESPN App) set to start Thursday, Chicago is faced with the challenge of filling many needs – offensive line, wide receiver, and cornerback among the most pressing – while also doing everything it can to help Fields take the “big jump” coach Matt Eberflus said he expects in Year 2. Ryan Poles, the new general manager, should ensure Fields is protected.

Poles, an ex-offensive lineman, noticed issues with the personnel at the front, from the body compositions to the scheme fits. He began to overhaul the offensive line by letting James DanielsGet free agency and sign Lucas Patrickto play center. The Bears moved to the center of minicamp and began to shuffle their O-line. Larry BoromLeft tackle Teven JenkinsRight tackle and left tackle were the positions they both played in college. This is in contrast to where they filled in in their rookie seasons of 2021.

“They 100% need to invest in their offensive line, and Seattle needs to be the model of what not to do,” ESPN NFL analyst Dan Orlovsky said. “I think Ryan Poles needs to be very focused on not allowing the reality of how special of an athlete Justin is to make him believe he can get away with having an average offensive line.

“I think that’s what happened in Seattle. Russell [Wilson]So athletic and good looking, he was so young that he kept it up. [the Seahawks]They believed they could increase their skill level by hiring more men from the same position. That’s the tempting part in Chicago right now — we’ve got to get guys that can get open, we’ve got to get skill guys. You can give 100 percent but you must address the issue. [Fields’]Ability to stand up and play quarterback in the pocket. Because if you do that, he’ll run for his life, and you’ll damage his career.”

Fields was sacked 36-times in 11 games (on 10.3%) including nine in his debut against Cleveland. Oddly enough, Chicago’s pass block win rate last season was sufficient at 66.1%, the sixth-best mark in the league as the O-line sustained its blocks for at least 2.5 seconds.

However, the offensive line is not the only source of all the difficulties Fields faced in 2021. Fields averaged 2.91 seconds before the pass last season – the sixth-highest mark – while the NFL average was 2.77 seconds.

When he held the ball past the NFL average, he was pressured on 43.3% of pass plays – sixth-highest in NFL. Six of his 10 interceptions occurred while he was being pressured. But his problems weren’t all a result of pressure. Fields’ 0.7 touchdown-interception ratio when not pressured was second worst in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information data.

“When you have a quarterback that’s holding the ball, he’s not anticipating that his wide receiver is going to get open,” former NFL offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles said. “If he holds the ball for even a half-second more — or a full second more — because he’s waiting until the receiver is actually open instead of throwing him open, that’s a sack in the NFL. And a sack fumble if you don’t have great ball security.”

Fields admitted that there were occasions when he was to blame for taking a tackle. He was inspired to work with Luke Getsy as an offensive coordinator in order to improve his footwork, and to change how he passes.

The 23-year-old is also taking steps to improve his ability to get rid of the ball faster by honing his timing with the players he’ll be throwing to this season. He held an impromptu throwing session in Atlanta with Bears receiver. Darnell MooneyEnds that are tight Cole KmetTo help him build continuity with his pass catchers.

“To be on that same page and get that understanding, that’s when quarterbacks can play fast, and you can sit there and go — ‘alright, it’s quarters and that ‘backer is going to pay attention to this play fake and you know once you cross that safety’s face, that ball is going to be on your face mask,'” Orlovsky said. “That allows you to play faster, so you’re not holding onto the ball as much.”

Fields threw four touchdowns to ten interceptions, a 0.4 TD/Int ratio — to receivers. This was tied for second worst by a qualified QB in the last five years.

It can take months to achieve a seamless connection. And it’s not all on the quarterback, either. Mooney, who is coming off a 1,055-yard season and has become the Bears’ No. Mooney, who is coming off a 1,055-yard season, has become the Bears' No. 1 receiver. He takes it upon himself that he can improve that connection.

“If he feels like, on this route, just win, I’ll get you open, or I’ll throw it to a spot, just make sure you win — I’ll just do that,” Mooney said. “I watched some of his tape from Ohio State of some of his receivers … and would just watch how they ran it, and how he was comfortable throwing the ball. It would have been a perfect pass so I [will] just try to be in the best position, same position.”

Chicago trades its first-round pick for Fields to make way for its draft Fields picks. Chicago now has its first picks at No. 39 and 48 in round two, respectively. 71 in Round 3. ESPN senior draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. believes the Bears can walk away with “an offensive linemanOder two” in the second to fourth rounds, with prospects like Dylan Parham, Luke Goedeke, Sean Ryan or Darian KinnardBeing intriguing late Day 2 or early Day 3 options

In Todd McShay’s latest three-round mock draft, the Bears select Texas A&M guard Kenyon GreenAt No. 39 before he took a defensive end and cornerback. Although Fields may need more pass-catchers, it might be a necessary step to ensure his safety.

But even if his pass protection doesn’t take a major jump, Fields still has to in spite of what’s around him.

“The big thing for Justin is how much can he individually get better without focusing on the burden of winning games,” Orlovsky said. “Because that’s when you get yourself into trouble. That’s when you really start to get ruined. It’s not easy. It's not easy.

“What you want to see is him develop his leadership skills and start to get an understanding for their offense by finding a couple pieces on the offensive line to help him play his best.”

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