Justin Fields, Matt Eberflus give hope for Bears' long-term future

·6 min read

Schrock: Fields, Eberflus reason for long-term optimism for Bears originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

After a 3-0 preseason, the Matt Eberflus era starts in earnest for the Bears in 12 days when Trey Lance and the San Francisco 49ers roll into town.

That's when we will get our first true gauge of Eberflus as a head coach and the direction the Bears are heading.

But I have to tell you, after an offseason program, training camp, and three preseason games, there's reason for long-term optimism in Chicago.

Not the kind of optimism that should have fans dreaming of a Cincinnati Bengals-type run this season. Yes, the schedule is soft, but it's still likely the Bears top out in the six-, seven-win range.

That might be tough to swallow in today's world where instant gratification is currency. But if you take the long view and understand that patience will be essential for general manager Ryan Poles' rebuild vision, there are plenty of reasons to believe the Bears are on the right track.

Let's start with the headliner.

Justin Fields' talent was never in question. The big arm, quick processing, and elite athleticism were apparent at Ohio State and shined through in spots during a turbulent rookie season with Matt Nagy bumbling his way to the finish line.

The questions around Fields were two-fold: Is he the guy Eberflus and Poles want behind center? If so, would they do enough to support him so he could reach his lofty potential? Or was he already doomed to suffer the fate of so many promising signal-callers who fell into the wrong situation?

It's easy to point to the Bears' lack of significant offseason signings as evidence that Poles and Eberflus aren't sold on Fields. If they wanted their young quarterback to thrive, they would be higher than 31st in the NFL in offensive spending, right?

But that's not seeing the forest through the trees.

Poles and Eberflus' most significant move came when they hired Luke Getsy away from the Green Bay Packers to be the offensive coordinator. Getsy is an up-and-coming star in NFL circles, and he promised to build an attack to highlight who Fields is as a quarterback – an exceptional athlete who wants to attack downfield whenever possible.

The wide-zone, bootleg-heavy scheme popularized by the Shanahans has spread across the NFL. It has many offshoots, from the Kubiak branch to McVay and LaFleur.

Some disciples, like Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay, have gone away from the core tenets. But Getsy's scheme remains in line with the initial doctrine: you use the wide-zone running game to set up play-action bootlegs, nakeds, and the like with route concepts that play off each other and ask the defense to make tough decisions.

The scheme is designed to make life easier on the quarterback, giving him easy throws that should lead to yard-after-catch opportunities with the proper personnel.

The installation process was clunky and disjointed. It was like watching a group of people pull a tire up a mountain with their teeth. The progress was minimal, and the backslides kept coming.

But as camp wound down, Fields and the Bears' offense had more good days than bad. Despite an uncertain offensive line and a wide receiver group thin on proven talent, the offense started to come together.

Fields' crisp dismantling of the Cleveland Browns in the Bears' preseason finale was affirmation that the Bears had made progress. That all the sweat the Bears had poured into the bucket was paying off, with Fields leading the way.

The second-year quarterback worked all offseason to improve his footwork, finetune his mechanics, develop better pocket presence, and shoulder the responsibility of leading the Bears into this rebuild.

Getsy lauded Fields' "tremendously improved" mechanics while noting the work is far from done.

You can dismiss Fields' stellar play against a Browns defense without its stars as nothing more than a preseason red herring. But what we saw Saturday in Cleveland was proof of potential. That Getsy has tailored his scheme to Fields' strengths. That the quarterback's skillset, blended with Getsy's innovation, can combine to create a lethal attack.

This brings us to Eberflus.

Defensive-minded head coaches often bite off more than they can chew and start drowning before the games start to matter.

But the first-time head coach has embraced a CEO role since taking over. He has let defensive coordinator Alan Williams put his stamp on the defense, choosing to oversee the rebuild from 1000 feet without meddling.

But that doesn't mean Eberflus hasn't put his stamp on the Bears' new foundation.

The H.I.T.S (hustle, intensity, takeaways, smarts) principle has permeated the Bears' locker room. It has buy-in from everyone from Jaylon Johnson to Eddie Jackson and Robert Quinn.

Eberflus took over a Bears' team whose innards were rotted from a previous regime. He arrived and challenged his best players to set a high standard everyone else would follow. So far, there have been no defectors.

The 52-year-old Eberflus arrives early to every meeting. His defensive background has been helpful for the quarterbacks and offense as a whole.

More importantly, Eberflus has handled early distractions with Quinn and Roquan Smith well. He clearly connects with his players, creating a trust vital to getting the best out of all 53 on the roster.

There will be growing pains for Eberflus. First-time head coach moments will pop up. The losses that surely will pile up this season will challenge his culture and the players' belief in him and his system.

But he seems to be up to the arduous task ahead.

If Fields and Eberflus are co-stars for my bullish feelings on the Bears' future, the draft class is the supporting cast.

Jaquan Brisker has the makings of a 10-year star, Kyler Gordon arrived with the perfect mix of skill and confidence, and the Bears have enough belief in Braxton Jones to make the fifth-round pick the starting left tackle in a crucial year for Fields' development.

Sprinkle in the tantalizing speed of Velus Jones Jr. and potential gems in Elijah Hicks and undrafted rookie Jack Sanborn, and Poles' first rookie class has all the makings of a great foundational group.

The 2022 season almost certainly won't see the Bears playing deep into January. There will be growing pains. Games against the Green Bay Packers, Buffalo Bills, and Philadelphia Eagles could be tough to watch.

But teams with a talented quarterback, intelligent head coach, and savvy general manager usually find their way out of the wilderness and back to relevancy.

The work is just beginning for Fields, Eberflus, Poles, and the Bears. There are miles to go before the words "successful" and "rebuild" can be uttered in the same sentence. The process will be long.

But if those three essential pieces are already in place, the Bears will eventually arrive at the desired destination.

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