How the Chicago Bears will weigh experience vs. preseason performance in naming their backup QB

Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS

When Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko met with reporters Wednesday morning at Halas Hall, the first questions to each were not about starting quarterback Justin Fields.

They were about the backup quarterback competition and whether the Bears would consider giving the job to an undrafted rookie from a Division II school.

There is, of course, much to learn about Fields, how he has progressed over the last month of training camp and whether the Bears plan to hold him out of Saturday’s final preseason game against the Buffalo Bills given the rash of injuries to the offensive line.

But first, what about Tyson Bagent versus P.J. Walker (versus Nathan Peterman)?

Bagent’s guidance of a 92-yard touchdown drive in the second preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts, coupled with some solid training camp performances, has piqued public interest in the underdog story. (Though that’s an underdog who threw for 17,034 yards and an NCAA-record 159 touchdown passes during his career at Shepherd University in West Virginia.)

Throw in Walker’s uninspiring performance in preseason games — 5-for-12 for 25 yards with no touchdowns and an interception — and coaches are being probed about the merit of Walker’s experience versus the unknown promise of Bagent as the Bears get closer to Tuesday’s deadline to cut the roster to 53 players.

There’s also the matter of the two-year, $4.15 million contract that general manager Ryan Poles gave to Walker in March.

Like coach Matt Eberflus did Saturday night after the loss to the Colts, Getsy said Wednesday that “anybody has a shot” when asked if Bagent could earn the QB2 job. But as is typical of Getsy, he politely tempered the Bagent hype.

“Like most of the guys in our training camp, there’s been good days and bad days for everybody and those three specifically (Walker, Bagent and Peterman),” Getsy said. “So we’re taking all that in. I know (Bagent) had a great drive and that’s exciting for people, but that’s one drive.

“We’re going to make that part of the evaluation, but we’re going to take the whole training camp evaluation before we make a decision like that.”

Getsy first got to know Bagent when he coached him at the Senior Bowl in January. Getsy and Janocko said that allowed the Bears to get to know how Bagent learns, leads and works and also what he looks like against a different speed of players than they might have seen him play in Division II.

Over the last month, Janocko said they’ve gotten a better look at how Bagent operates with poise.

“He’s shown a little bit of moxie to him,” Janocko said. “When you talk to him, he carries himself like somebody that’s very confident in his abilities, and he’s got a little swagger to him.”

But even with that poise, Bagent doesn’t have the experience Walker or Peterman has. Walker has played in only 15 games with the Carolina Panthers over the last three seasons, but he has been around pro football since 2017, when he signed with the Colts as an undrafted free agent. He spent time with the Colts practice squad and in the XFL before joining the Panthers, for whom he completed 131 of 228 passes for 1,461 yards with five touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

So Walker brings more experience not only to help the development of Fields, who’s entering his third season, but also from which to draw should he need to replace Fields this season. Fields missed seven games over his first two seasons, and it’s realistic to expect a backup to be needed at some point. Only 10 quarterbacks started every regular-season game in 2022.

“So much of our game is situational football,” Getsy said, “so being able to have those experiences and be able to react in a certain way is very valuable.”

Getsy said the Bears will weigh that experience as part of “an accumulation of a lot of things” as they make their final decision on their backup quarterback.

“I don’t think there’s any way you can ignore someone’s past and not value what’s going on in the present as well because experience — there’s no substitute for that,” Getsy said. “In the end, what’s most important is that you’re playing at your best when your best is needed. Right now we’re in this phase of training camp and we’re evaluating this probably the most, but we’ll always lean and reflect on a guy’s past as well — experience or lack thereof.”

The Bears have one more chance Saturday to get a good look at the backups. Eberflus should announce Thursday whether Fields will play against the Bills, a decision that certainly will take into account the absence of guards Teven Jenkins and Nate Davis and right tackle Darnell Wright at practice Wednesday.

Getsy said that with a lot of reps in joint practices with the Colts last week, he thinks the offense is “in a good place” and the Bears will feel good with whatever decision they make about Fields’ status for Saturday.

“You could play football. There’s always value to reps,” Janocko said. “Whether he does or he doesn’t, I’m sure they’ll make the best decision for the organization.”

And then they’ll get to making the decision on who is the best player to back up Fields.