National Football League
Chicago Bears' rebuilding plan: Protect, support QB Justin Fields
National Football League

Chicago Bears' rebuilding plan: Protect, support QB Justin Fields

Updated Mar. 30, 2022 10:35 p.m. ET

By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports NFL Writer

Ryan Poles had an up-close look at how an organization can surround a talented, young quarterback with playmakers to ensure the QB has sustained success.

The Chicago Bears' new general manager spent 13 seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, working his way up from player personnel assistant to executive director of player personnel.

In his previous role with Kansas City, Poles helped select and develop Patrick Mahomes, who led the Chiefs to a Super Bowl victory and two appearances in the NFL title game in his first five seasons.


Now, Poles will try to duplicate that success for Justin Fields with the Bears.

"It’s the support for that player," Poles told reporters earlier this month during the combine. "What does he play well with? What does the offense need for him to perform well? And also looking at historical information of what has helped second-year quarterbacks be successful."

Poles went on to say he’s looking to add dependable playmakers whom Fields can trust to make big plays in critical moments.

"If I’m running the Bears right now, every move I make has to be designed around making Justin Fields an All-Pro," Chicago-based NFL analyst Matt Bowen told "The No Name Football Podcast." "Every move, and that counts on the defensive side of the football, too. If you take the football away, it helps your quarterback. If you can create field position, it helps your quarterback."

Selected No. 11 overall in the 2021 draft out of Ohio State, Fields struggled with uneven play in his rookie season under former Chicago coach Matt Nagy.

Fields completed 59% of his passes for 1,870 yards, with seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He was sacked 36 times and posted a 73.2 passer rating. He rushed for 420 yards and two scores, finishing 2-8 as a starter in 2021.

Specifically, Fields and the Bears must improve in situational football — on third down and closing out games.

Fields completed just 51% of his passes, with one touchdown and six interceptions, on third down last season (41.8 passer rating). He completed 57% of his passes, with three touchdowns and four interceptions, in the fourth quarter (69.5).

In the red zone, however, Fields was better, completing 55% of his passes with five touchdowns passes and no turnovers (103.0).

"It’s just finding players that fit our scheme that allow us to be balanced," Poles said when asked to elaborate on his first steps in supporting Fields. "That’s important. And then the playmaker piece — guys that can make plays. I think a lot of the good quarterbacks, especially the young ones, who can they go to that they trust that is dependable and can make plays? We’re trying to keep an eye on that as well."

Mike Martz served as the offensive coordinator for the Bears for two seasons, mentoring QB Jay Cutler. With Cutler under center, the Bears reached the NFC Championship Game after the 2010 season, losing to the Green Bay Packers 21-14. Cutler suffered a knee injury in the third quarter, and backup Caleb Hanie had to finish the game.

Martz believes Chicago’s focus should be solving the team’s issues up front offensively, and that will lead to better play by Fields.

"They need to get him a good offensive line," Martz said. "He had an awful offensive line [last season]. I don’t care how good you are as a quarterback — even Aaron Rodgers when he was young at Green Bay, they didn’t have a good offensive line, and everybody wondered what was wrong with Aaron Rodgers. Then they finally got an offensive line in there.

"That’s what needs to happen in Chicago."

According to Pro Football Focus, the Bears had the No. 22-ranked offensive line in the NFL last season. Poles already has started working on rebuilding the offensive line, with mixed results. The Bears have added center Lucas Patrick in free agency. Poles also signed restricted free agent Ryan Bates to an offer sheet, but the Buffalo Bills matched and retained the player. 

"We’ve got to change body types a little bit," said Poles, who played offensive tackle at Boston College. "We’ve got to get lighter. We’ve got to get quicker. Through that, I think there’s some young talent that just needs to be pressed. And that’s part of our job, to create competition and bring the best out of them."

In addition to getting lighter and quicker, Poles thinks the line needs to get nastier. That's one reason he went after Patrick, a former Packer.

"The things he was screaming in the phone after we got a deal done, it kind of showed what he’s all about," Poles said. "He’s tough, he’s a prick, and he knows it. That’s how he survives, and that’s what we need up front."

In other words, the Bears need to get back to being Monsters of the Midway. Since reaching the NFC title game more than a decade ago, the team has had just two postseason appearances, winning the NFC North just once in that period. Meanwhile, the Packers have won the division eight times.

Poles said during his introductory news conference that the Bears are going to take the NFC North and never give it back, perhaps bringing a reluctant smile to Bears fans.

However, Chicago’s new top personnel man faces an uphill climb to reach his lofty goal.

The Bears agreed to terms with Cincinnati Bengals free-agent defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi on a three-year, $40.5 million deal. But after a failed physical, Chicago moved on, signing Los Angeles Chargers defensive tackle Justin Jones to a two-year, $12 million contract.

Due to cap issues, Poles let several high-profile Bears go, none bigger than veteran edge rusher Khalil Mack, whom Poles traded to the Chargers for a second-round selection in this year’s draft and a sixth-round pick in 2023.

They lost receiver Allen Robinson to the Los Angeles Rams in free agency on a high-dollar deal and let offensive lineman James Daniels move on to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Poles added several free agents at reasonable prices to bolster the roster, including guard Dakota Dozier, receivers Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown, defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad, linebacker Nicholas Morrow, backup quarterback Trevor Siemian and fullback Khari Blasingame.

The Bears have nearly $16 million in salary-cap space remaining — which puts them in the top third of the league — so they can still make a few moves in the third wave of free agency leading to next month’s draft.

With six picks in this year’s draft — no pick in the first round but three on Day 2 — new coach Matt Eberflus should look to build a defense that’s tough against the run and can take the ball away.

Only the dysfunctional Jacksonville Jaguars had a worse turnover differential than Chicago’s minus-13 last season.

Much like the successful teams led by Lovie Smith and Mike Ditka that played with a tough, disciplined mindset, the Bears should look to build a team that plays good defense, runs the football and plays solid special teams to take advantage of the unique skill set of Fields.

"We’re going to play at a high-effort, high-tempo style based upon speed and explosive, athletic ability," said Eberflus, the former defensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts. "We will carry ourselves with an attitude of energy, passion and intensity."

Doing less with more and creating a culture built on relentless effort sounds great, but you also need talented players to win consistently in the NFL — something clearly lacking when viewing Chicago’s depth chart.

And here's what the folks really care about in the Windy City: Will that philosophy and approach to building a team lead to winning?

"They still want the ’85 Bears: Play great defense and grind it out on the ground," Martz said. "And that’s OK. That’s a great way to win. It worked for them. But you must take advantage of the talent that you have. 

"And I think this quarterback has some talent, but the team won’t know until you give him a real good offensive line."

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @eric_d_williams.


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