The Bears' quarterback of the future became their quarterback of the present Wednesday as coach Matt Nagy named rookie first-round pick Justin Fields the team's starter moving forward.
"This isn't something that just happened just right away," Nagy said. "He's grown to this point. He's earned it. He's worked hard. And now he has this opportunity."
After the Bears traded up nine spots in the draft to select Fields at No. 11, they formulated a plan to groom the former Ohio State star behind veteran free-agent acquisition Andy Dalton. Nagy repeatedly said that it would be evident when Fields was ready to assume the No. 1 job, and that time is now.
With Dalton sidelined due to a knee injury the past two weeks, Fields demonstrated resiliency and play-making ability in leading the Bears to a 24-14 bounce-back win over the Lions following a disappointing 26-6 loss to the Browns.
"The last couple weeks, we've had some good conversations internally," Nagy said. "It's helped us in the last couple weeks. Continuing that process this week, it's led to making the decision to move with Justin as the starter. We've been patient with this. We've grown with him. We're proud of Justin. He's been a great teammate from the very beginning.
"The plan and the process that we had going into this was important to understand, and then when Andy unfortunately got hurt with his knee, that sped the process up. That sped the plan up. I've always said from the beginning to everybody in here—to our players, coaches, to [reporters] when [reporters] ask—is that we'll know, and he's done everything to show us that he's ready for this opportunity."
Up until Wednesday, Nagy had said that Dalton would remain the starter when healthy. But even with Dalton returning to practice Wednesday without restrictions, Fields was named the No. 1 quarterback largely due to the incremental growth he's made, not to mention his seemingly limitless upside.
"The beauty of how we do things—and this is what I love about our building and our staff and I told you even with the players last week—we talk through things," Nagy said. "And things are fluid. Things are always fluid really in any sport. We discuss things. We're open. We have open communication … We're always talking as a staff every day, every practice where things are at. And I think after this past weekend with Justin and the growth that we saw, the discussions that we had was to be able to go this direction."
So far this season, Fields has completed 25 of 52 passes for 347 yards with two interceptions. He has also rushed for 55 yards and one touchdown on 17 carries.
"It'll be our job now as coaches to continue to teach and help him grow as we go and develop into that NFL quarterback that we know he can be," Nagy said. "Now, there's also going to be ebb and flow with this process. We get that. We all understand that, but I think Justin has shown that he has the ability to also handle that. We all went through a pretty rough game in Cleveland and I love the way that he bounced back, and so this is about everybody, this is all of us doing this together."
Nagy informed both Fields and Dalton of the news Tuesday. The Bears coach lauded Dalton for the professionalism he's shown since signing with the team in March.
"I can't say enough good things about Andy Dalton," Nagy said. "I really think that he was playing well for us. I love the type of teammate that he is and continues to be. He's as good as they get, really I mean that. And when you have to have these conversations with these guys that you're with every day and you build these relationships, I'm just going to be completely honest and real with you, man, it's hard. It's not easy. And so there's that part of this, and I just appreciate the way he's handled everything. He's as special as they get, and I've been around a lot of special guys."