Justin Fields' ability to deal with adversity highlights Year 2 growth

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Fields' ability to deal with adversity highlights Year 2 growth originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- There was a day early on in training camp when quarterback Justin Fields was picked off by rookies Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker on consecutive possessions. The back-to-back picks came after several subpar days by the offense to open the summer sessions.

Fields responded by delivering several splash plays for touchdowns, showing the 23-year-old had the mettle needed to respond to adversity at the NFL level.

The 2022 season became an exercise in responding to adversity for both Fields and the Bears.

The second-year quarterback has played behind eight different starting offensive line combinations, lost No. 1 wide receiver Darnell Mooney for the season in Week 12, has seen wide receiver Chase Claypool and running back Khalil Herbert miss time, and watched locker room leaders Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith leave after being traded.

Though all of that, Fields has still shown tremendous growth.

Following the Bears' mini-bye re-evaluation, Fields has completed 67.0 percent of his passes for 1,298 yards, 12 touchdowns, and five interceptions. Fields has also rushed for 1,011 yards and eight scores on the year. Since Week 7, Fields ranks ninth among all quarterbacks in Expected Points Added Per Play. He also ranks in Completion Percentage Over Expectation.

He has done all of this with uncertainty swirling around him.

"He's done well," head coach Matt Eberflus said Wednesday. "I mean if you look at how he is progressing during the course of the year with all the different lineups up front, all the different receiver lineups, with losing Herbert for quite an extended period of time, I think he has done well. You know he has improved his game."

The start of Fields' NFL career has been far from perfect. He played for a lame-duck regime in his rookie season, which included an offensive staff that was unable to tailor and tweak the offense to his skill set. Fields entered this season having to learn a new offense with an almost entirely new cast of targets. Add in an offensive line that has struggled to protect him and his separated non-throwing shoulder, and you get a clear picture of the adversity swamp Fields has waded through in his first two seasons.

Fields knows it hasn't been a smooth ride to start his Bears career. But he sees the value in learning to battle through tough times early on.

"I think every game, even this game, it’s a learning opportunity," Fields said Wednesday as the Bears prepare to face the Detroit Lions. "When those backups do come in and they’re actually starting this game, it’s just an opportunity for me and them to grow during practice, grow during that week and me being on the same page as them.

"I feel like there’s always something to play for no matter if we’re 0-15 or right now 3-12 or 12-3," Fields later said. "My outlook on this game this weekend and today’s practice is just getting better, growing and learning."

Given the Bears' 3-12 record and the uncertainty surrounding the offensive line, some thought the Bears might choose to sit a banged-up Fields for the final two games of the regular season.

That's not in the cards.

The Bears want Fields to continue to get valuable game reps. Those can't be replaced with offseason work. They also see value in their young franchise quarterback learning to navigate less-than-ideal circumstances.

"I just think that when you’re a quarterback you’re gonna have adversity during the course of the season," Eberflus said. "You’re going to have some linemen out. You’re going to have some skill sets that aren’t gonna be there and he’s got to figure that out. We have to figure that out as coaches. We have to be able to figure it out and maneuver — how do we move the ball down the field when this Person X is out or Person Z is out. And we’ve just got to figure it out. It’s good for the coaches, too as well as Justin."

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The Bears are currently in the middle of an eight-game losing streak. They have lost in a myriad of ways during the streak. They've blown leads and had comebacks fall short. They've had games where the offense didn't show up and games where the defense couldn't get off the field.

Despite all of that, the morale has remained high in the Bears' locker room. Fields' steady nature is a big reason the Bears' ship has stayed afloat while the losses have piled up and why the big picture remains bright.

"I’ve always been kind of level-headed like that, but you know it’s never going to go your way," Fields said. "It’s never going to be perfect, so when you do hit that adversity or when you do hit that point in the game where something went wrong, the only answer is to just keep your head down, keep going and keep fighting and keep playing each play out and keep going.

"You can’t worry about what happened last game or the last drive. You’ve got to move and just say ‘F it’ and go play.”

Fields' Year 2 leap has been the biggest bright spot in Year 0 of a rebuild.

The 23-year-old quarterback has improved everything from his mechanics to his pocket presence. But his ability to navigate rocky waters might be what benefits both he and the Bears the most down the road.

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