Bears coach Matt Eberflus on Wednesday announced that quarterback Justin Fields, left guard Cody Whitehair, defensive end Robert Quinn and linebacker Roquan Smith will serve as season-long captains, while running back David Montgomery will be an honorary fifth captain for Sunday's season opener against the 49ers.
"I just think it's a function of leadership," Eberflus said. "I told the guys when we named the captains, and I always tell them this: the first rule of leadership is leading yourself. I also say this: everybody in the room is a leader, so we all have to do a great job of leading ourselves. We all have to lead, and we lead by modeling the behavior we wish to see in our teammates. That's important, and these guys have done a good job of that."
Eberflus revealed that Bears players voted to select the team captains.
"That says a lot about those guys and what their peers think of them," Eberflus said. "It's a job that you really have just got to focus on doing what you do best and playing great football at your position. You'll lead when it's called upon. But it's really about playing well."
As the Bears' undisputed starting quarterback, Fields has shown more leadership since the start of the offseason program than he was able to last year when he opened his rookie year as veteran Andy Dalton's backup.
"Talk about modeling the behavior you wish to see," Eberflus said. "[Fields] is a great teammate. He's a guy that works with others and wants to soak in everything and has gotten better. He's done it through his work ethic. He's obviously very intelligent, which helps him along the way."
Along with safety DeAndre Houston-Carson, Whitehair is the longest tenured Bears player, having been selected in the second round of the 2016 draft out of Kansas State. A Day 1 starter, Whitehair has been dependable and durable since he arrived, opening 95 of 97 games. He played center during his first five seasons before moving to left guard in 2021.
Quinn returns for a third season with the Bears and 12th in the NFL. A highly respected team leader, he set a franchise single-season sack record with 18.5 last year, eclipsing Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent's 17.5 sacks in 1984.
"It's an honor for the work you put in on the field, off the field," Quinn said of being named a captain. "From the guys, it shows a sign of respect."
Smith has been named second-team All-Pro each of the past two seasons. In 2020, he finished second in the NFL with 96 solo tackles and tied for second with 18 tackles-for-loss, the most by a Bears player since Hall of Fame middle linebacker Brian Urlacher had 19 in 2002. Last season, Smith recorded a career-high 163 tackles with 12 tackles-for-loss, 3.0 sacks and one interception that he returned 53 yards for a touchdown.
Smith was voted a captain a few weeks after ending a "hold-in" that stemmed from a contract impasse.
"I don't even look at it that way," Eberflus said. "I look at it as football. That's the business side of it. Since him and I always talk, it's always about football. And it's going to continue to be that way, and he's a man's man and a heck of a football player, so we are excited for him to be a captain.
"On the grass, he's been great. And he's been great in the locker room and he's been great with the coaches. It's just the negotiations didn't work out the way that he wanted to and that we wanted to. It didn't go the way that we wanted, but in the same regard, he's been 'A1' on the football side, the coaches' side, teammate side, all that. So it's been really good."
Montgomery is just the fourth player in Bears history to produce at least 1,000 yards from scrimmage in each of his first three NFL seasons, joining Hall of Famer Gale Sayers, Matt Forte and Jordan Howard. Montgomery gained 1,074 yards in 2019 (889 rushing, 185 receiving) and 1,508 yards in 2020 (1,070 rushing, 438 receiving) and 1,150 last year (849 rushing and 301 receiving).