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Bears 2023 position preview: Quarterback

Bears quarterback Justin Fields
Bears quarterback Justin Fields

The following is the first of nine position previews in advance of training camp.

All eyes at Bears training camp this summer will be on quarterback Justin Fields, who will look to build on a breakout 2022 season.

The former Ohio State star blossomed into an electrifying playmaker last year, rushing for 1,143 yards—the second most by a quarterback in NFL history—and eight touchdowns while also passing for 2,242 yards and 17 TDs. 

"I thought Justin did a good job," general manager Ryan Poles said following the 2022 campaign. "He showed the ability to be a playmaker, be impactful. He can change games quickly. Does he have room to grow? He does. He has to get better as a passer, and I'm excited to see him take those steps as we move forward."

The Bears were pleased with the strides that Fields made in offseason practices, particularly his decision-making and accuracy, especially on deep passes. The 6-3, 228-pounder appears primed to continue to ascend in those areas, given his familiarity with the offense and the presence of a stronger surrounding cast.

After learning new schemes in each of his first two offseasons in the league, Fields returns for a second year in coordinator Luke Getsy's system.

"It's the first season I'm going into where it's my second year knowing the offense," Fields said. "So [I] definitely feel more comfortable in it, just with my reads and stuff like that, just seeing what the defense is doing and stuff like that. It's truly amazing when you have that feeling going in, knowing where your guys are going to be, [being] more comfortable with the footwork stuff. It's been great."

"There's no teacher like experience; there just isn't," added coach Matt Eberflus. "You can talk about it all you want. If you want to swing the golf club, you can talk about it until you're blue in the face. Until you actually take a lesson and learn how to grip the club, take a stance and swing at it, there's nothing like experience in anything you do."

Fields told in May that the one area of his game he was working on the most during the offseason was getting the ball out of his hands quicker.

It's a goal he clearly was able to achieve in OTA and minicamp practices.

"You can see it," Eberflus said. "It's quicker, it's faster, it's more precise. That comes down to his experience and his work ethic. He's worked really hard at it."


Step into Bears territory

Poles worked really hard during the offseason bolstering the offense around Fields. The Bears traded for No. 1 receiver DJ Moore; signed guard Nate Davis, running back D'Onta Foreman and tight end Robert Tonyan in free agency; and selected tackle Darnell Wright, running back Roschon Johnson and receiver Tyler Scott in the draft.

Moore arrives after spending his first five NFL seasons with the Panthers, catching 364 passes for 5,201 yards and 21 touchdowns. The 6-foot, 210-pounder topped 1,100 yards in three straight seasons—with 1,175 in 2019, 1,193 in 2020 and 1,157 in 2021. Last year he had 63 receptions for 888 yards and seven TDs for a Carolina offense that had three quarterbacks all start at least five games.

It didn't take long for Fields to develop a rapport with Moore in offseason practices.

"It did come on quickly," Fields said. "His body language is pretty easy to read. Early on, we communicated on how we want each route ran and stuff like that. Of course, he has a lot of experience. He's been in the league for a good period of time now. He's played a lot of football, so he knows different coverages really well. That's one thing that I was kind of impressed about, with the offense coming in and just understanding and seeing coverages really well on choice routes and stuff like that. He's been great, and the chemistry has definitely picked up."

Fields is looking forward to the expected return in training camp of receivers Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool. Mooney did not practice during the offseason while recovering from a season-ending ankle injury, and Claypool missed the final weeks of practice with an undisclosed injury.

Backup plan

Another notable offseason addition was backup quarterback P.J. Walker. The fourth-year pro spent the past three seasons with the Panthers, appearing in 15 games with seven starts and throwing for 1,461 yards and five touchdowns.

"We are fortunate to add P.J. to our quarterback room, given his athleticism and scheme fit for our offense," Poles said after signing Walker to a two-year deal.

Last season Walker played in six games with five starts, passing for 731 yards with three TDs, three interceptions and a 78.0 rating. His five starts came in consecutive games from Weeks 6-10 after Baker Mayfield was sidelined with an ankle injury.

Walker entered the NFL in 2017 as an undrafted free agent with the Colts. He spent his first two seasons on Indianapolis' practice squad, including in 2018 when Eberflus served as Colts defensive coordinator.

Backup quarterback Nathan Peterman will return for a second season with the Bears after signing a one-year contract. Last year Peterman appeared in three games with one start, completing 14 of 25 passes for 139 yards with one touchdown, one interception and a 68.6 passer rating.

Peterman was selected by the Bills in the fifth round of the 2017 draft out of Pittsburgh. Prior to joining the Bears, he played in 10 games with four starts for the Bills (2017-18) and Raiders (2020-21), throwing for 573 yards and three touchdowns.

Undrafted rookie quarterback Tyson Bagent will also head to training camp. The 6-3, 213-pounder from Shepherd University in West Virginia owns the record for most touchdown passes across all NCAA divisions with 159. He won the Harlon Hill Trophy as the Division II National Player of the Year in 2021 and was named Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference East Player of the Year in 2022.