Justin Fields to Darnell Mooney. It was often uttered during the 2021 season when the rookie first-round quarterback connected with the slender second-year wide receiver, who quickly emerged as one of the day-three gems from the 2020 NFL Draft.
The duo appeared in rhythm on most passing downs and displayed the chemistry reserved for veteran tandems. At least, that’s what it felt like, right? According to General Manager Ryan Poles, eh, not so much. And it wasn’t a problem limited to Fields and Mooney. The entire passing game wasn’t up to Poles’ liking.
“It was off,” Poles said at the owners’ meetings, via The Athletic. “I don’t know if that’s just the way that they had it structured with who was starting and who wasn’t starting. And I had that conversation with [Fields]; I had it with Mooney; I had it with Cole (Kmet). And it’s been cool to see [Fields] on social media going down to Atlanta and working with them.”
Fields’ final stat line supports Poles’ theory. He completed just 58.9% of his passes for 1,870 yards, seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions. It was hardly a breakout season for the first-year passer. Getting Fields to unlock his immense upside has been a focus of Poles and new Head Coach Matt Eberflus so far this offseason.
“He loves football, and he wants to work hard and he does work hard,” Eberflus said of Fields. “And he’s been a great worker since I’ve been here. He’s been working his tail off. So, in terms of the hustle and the effort, he’s going to fit right into that. The intensity for the quarterback is more about mental intensity and mental focus, making sure he’s operating the offense and obviously taking care of the ball, making good decisions, good timing. And then situations, that’s all quarterback play. We’re going to work him through those situations.”
Superlatives aside, Fields is doing his part to fix the issues Poles outlined. He’s been working out with Mooney in Atlanta to avoid any miscommunication when the games begin to count in September.
Whether the results on the field will match the current enthusiasm depends largely on whether Fields takes to the Bears’ new offensive system led by Offensive Coordinator Luke Getsy. There’s been a jolt of excitement and anticipation for how well Fields can thrive under Getsy’s watch. It’s played a big part in why the Bears, in a way, think there have already been significant upgrades on offense even without a headline-grabbing free-agent signing.
“I think what we’ve done so far is at least establish a little bit of growth in the roster,” Poles said. “Plus, the scheme with the coaching, I see him getting better even from what we did right now.”
It’s quite the indictment against former coach Matt Nagy, isn’t it? The Bears’ biggest offseason addition is actually the removal of Nagy from Fields’ development. Nagy’s system spoiled like old milk and couldn’t be discarded quickly enough. Now that he’s gone, hope springs eternal.
But this is the honeymoon period, after all. It’s the inherent high that comes along with every new regime, whether it’s a general manager or coaching staff. It’s the same high that’s experienced whenever a new franchise quarterback comes to town, too. The general manager and the head coach love the quarterback; the quarterback loves his offensive coordinator and the system; it’s just one big lovefest, until losses begin to mount.
Fields and Mooney are doing their part to make sure they’re in lockstep so those losses don’t mount. Or, at the very least, the passing game that Poles thought was out of whack can’t be blamed.