Andy Dalton has studied the playbook since signing with the Bears in March. This week, the veteran quarterback is getting his first chance to apply what he's learned on the practice field.
"Right now, it's just building chemistry with our guys," Dalton said Wednesday after the Bears conducted their second OTA practice. "[It's my] first time being around everybody. For them, [it's] hearing my cadence, making sure we're communicating well, and just kind of getting a feel for how our skill position players are running routes and everything."
Dalton joined the Bears this year after spending his first 10 NFL seasons with the Bengals (2011-19) and Cowboys (2020). The 6-2, 220-pounder has appeared in 144 games with 142 starts, completing 62.2 percent of his passes for 33,764 yards with 218 touchdowns, 126 interceptions and an 87.5 passer rating. He has also rushed for 1,335 yards and 22 TDs on 422 attempts.
"As soon as I signed here, I was already starting to learn the offense," Dalton said. "Fortunately, having been around—I think this is my seventh coordinator out of my 11 years—I know how to adjust to a new offense. So to start from the beginning, I was trying to make sure I was on the same page, making sure that if I had any questions to reach out so when we got to this time of year I wasn't having to get some questions answered and see how things were going. I've been in this, I've been trying to learn and I feel really comfortable with everything that we've done so far."
One reason for Dalton's comfort level no doubt is his familiarity with offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, who served as Bengals quarterbacks coach in 2016 and offensive coordinator in 2017-18. In their first season together in Cincinnati, Dalton was selected to his third career Pro Bowl after passing for 4,206 yards.
"It's been great being back with Bill," Dalton said. "That's a big reason why I wanted to be here; because of Bill and just the experiences that we've had together."
Dalton has also enjoyed working with coach Matt Nagy.
"It's been fun to see Matt install all the plays and just to hear the way that he's gone about talking about every read that we have, every progression: 'This is why we're calling it, this is what we're doing,' and just his teaching," Dalton said. "That's what this time of year is for; it's for the teaching, and Matt's done a great job. All these coaches are doing an awesome job of getting everybody to be on the same page, making sure they're not thinking so much when we're out there and teaching why we're doing certain things. That's been great. I think that's what we've got to take advantage of this time of year."
Nagy has liked what he's seen from Dalton in the Bears' first two OTA practices.
"He is doing a great job of making anticipatory throws, throwing the ball early," Nagy said. "If there's one thing that these wide receivers are going to come out of [these] OTAs from and obviously from training camp, too, they're going to see that when that ball is supposed to be there, that ball is going to be there, so they better get ready to put their hands up to catch it. You better be at the right spot, at the right depth and be doing your route adjustments accordingly.
"I think it really is impressive with how much he's digested this playbook already and now he's doing it with these players, so every rep we get for those guys is just valuable."
Dalton insists his mindset didn't change after the Bears traded up in the first round of the draft to pick quarterback Justin Fields at No. 11 overall. The team plans to start Dalton and groom Fields behind him, and Dalton is eager to mentor the promising young prospect.
"I knew there was a possibility of it, and so when it happened, it is what it is," Dalton said. "Justin's a great guy, getting to know him the last couple weeks and getting to be around him. He's going to make the quarterback room better."
Chosen by the Bengals in the second round of the 2011 draft out of TCU, Dalton helped lead Cincinnati to the playoffs in each of his first five NFL seasons. He remains the franchise's all-time leader in 300-yard passing games (28), winning percentage (.533), completions (2,757), touchdowns (204) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (1.73).
Dalton's experience and leadership has already been evident to his new Bears teammates.
"It's been great getting to know him," said right tackle Germain Ifedi. "As a quarterback, [he's a] consummate pro. He gets the ball out on time, which is critical for a starting quarterback and critical for offensive linemen. He's a leader of men, and he's done it before. He's been in the fire and nothing fazes him. You love that in a quarterback, that veteran presence. He's everything we could ask him to be."
Rookies and veterans take the field for practice during the first week of Organized Team Activities at Halas Hall.