Rookie quarterback Tyson Bagent will make his fourth consecutive start for the Chicago Bears on Thursday night against the Carolina Panthers, as Justin Fields continues to recover from the dislocated right thumb he suffered in Week 6.
Fields, who returned to practice Friday, has remained limited in on-field work this week and officially was listed as doubtful for the Week 10 game at Soldier Field on Wednesday’s injury report.
“He’s not medically cleared to go right now,” Bears coach Matt Eberflus said after practice Wednesday. “He’s getting better, though. His accuracy is improving. He’s throwing it better. He’s starting to do more and more and more. We’ll see where it goes.”
Eberflus said Fields likely would have been on track to play this week if the Bears had a Sunday game. But the quick turnaround to play Thursday shortened the window to make a decision.
“Short weeks are hard,” Eberflus said.
Fields has been out since Oct. 15, when he dislocated his thumb in the third quarter of a 19-13 home loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
Bagent replaced him that afternoon and started the last three games. He has played well in spurts and propelled the Bears to a 30-12 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders in his first start on Oct. 22.
But he also has turned the ball over eight times in 14 quarters, including four giveaways in last week’s 24-17 road loss to the New Orleans Saints.
While initially unnerved by the turnover problems in that loss, Bagent found silver linings in how he performed through the first three quarters against the Saints, completing 15 of 19 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns for a 123.9 passer rating.
“When you throw three picks, you leave the field pretty disgusted with yourself,” Bagent said. “But then you look at the film and you realize that, man, for 45 minutes, 48 minutes, I was playing pretty good. We were operating very well.
“So just clean up those last 12 minutes and I think there’s a different outcome to the game and I’d probably feel a little different leaving the stadium.”
Bears quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko emphasized this week that a big part of Bagent’s developmental process revolves around understanding how his strengths and weaknesses apply in the NFL. The 23-year-old rookie still is learning on the fly from his experiences.
“Obviously turnovers are the number one issue in football,” Janocko said. “That’s the number one stat for winning and losing. That’s where we’ve got to clean things up but then also build on all the good stuff he’s been doing too.”
Janocko has been particularly impressed with Bagent’s poise and accuracy and was thrilled with how he handled the noise and made the proper protection calls and checks in New Orleans.
Bagent acknowledged he has gradually adjusted to elite competition and gotten a better feel for the risk-reward calculus of certain situations.
“Not only are you playing against physical specimens, but you’re also playing against dudes who don’t really make mistakes either,” he said. “So you just have to be that much sharper and on top of what you’re trying to accomplish. You have to think smoother and faster than you ever have before.”
To that end, Bagent has embraced his growing pains and the chance to learn through game experience, even with the turbulence and disappointments he has had to endure over the past month.
“Everything is going great, aside from obviously the ugly parts with turning the ball over,” Bagent said. “You never want to do that. But as far as the growth is concerned, I feel like this opportunity has given me the chance to grow at an extremely rapid pace. I’ve been super grateful for that.”
Bagent will get at least one more growth opportunity Thursday. Eberflus said he expects Fields to continue ramping up with an eye on returning for the Week 11 game against the Lions on Nov. 19 in Detroit. The Bears might put Fields through a pregame workout Thursday to push his recovery.
Eberflus stumbled a bit when asked multiple times for specifics on why the Bears medical staff has yet to clear Fields.
“It’s really just the clearance is that he has to be cleared by the medical staff,” Eberflus said. “And it’s really about him feeling good about it and the medical staff saying he can go in there and function. And he’s just not there at this time.
“It’s everything. It’s the grip strength, the accuracy, the ability to function as a quarterback. It’s just all right there. It’s getting closer.”