Calm, cool and collected.
That's how Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields intends to approach his first NFL start Sunday in Cleveland. It's the same mentality he employed when playing in big games at Ohio State and in his first two NFL regular-season contests.
Coach Matt Nagy announced Wednesday that Fields will start against the Browns in place of injured veteran Andy Dalton, who hurt his knee in last Sunday's 20-17 win over the Bengals.
"I've been preparing for this moment for a long time," Fields said. "My mindset doesn't change. I'm still going to have to play my football and just prepare the best I can; get a lot of practice reps and study, study, study, and get more comfortable and confident with the plays."
Fields acknowledged that he wasn't always as unflappable as he is now.
"I used to not be this way," said the 22-year-old. "I definitely learned from past experiences, past first starts. I still remember my first start in high school. I was nervous as can be. Being more this way—just being stoic and being even-keeled—I think that just keeps my mind calm and allows me to think more."
The turning point for Fields came when he began emerging as a prep star who garnered national attention at Harrison High School in Kennesaw, Ga.
"I would say probably junior year in high school is when I finally got confidence in myself," Fields said. "I think that's where just the whole story changed."
His confidence and poise continued to grow at Ohio State, where Fields excelled on college football's biggest stages against perennial powerhouse programs. In 2019, he passed for 299 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-21 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game. In 2020, he threw for 385 yards and six TDs in a 49-28 victory over Clemson in a College Football Playoff semifinal, playing through a painful injury he suffered on a crushing hit to his midsection.
Fields hopes to have just as prolific outings with the Bears, but he knows that it won't happen overnight. Last Sunday against the Bengals, he completed 6 of 13 passes for 60 yards with one interception and rushed for 31 yards on 10 carries. The pick came late in the game when he failed to see linebacker Logan Wilson drop off the line of scrimmage into pass coverage.
"[There's] a lot of stuff to learn and a lot of stuff to get better at," Fields said. "So, of course, I was excited to watch the tape and excited to see where I could improve. I was glad to watch it."
As he prepares for his first NFL start, Fields should benefit from taking first-team reps throughout the week in practice. That wasn't the case last week when he entered the game following Dalton's injury having quarterbacked the scout team in practice.
"It's definitely going to help me, just getting reps with the offense instead of just working with the scout offense," Fields said. "It's definitely going to have me more prepared this week, and I'm excited."
Despite his even-keel demeanor, Fields acknowledges that Sunday's milestone first NFL start means a lot to him.
"If you told me 7-8 years ago that I'd be in this position, I probably wouldn't believe you," he said. "But I think, as time went along, I got more comfortable. I guess my goals kind of got bigger and bigger. Around this time last year, I had an idea that I could be in this position right now, so actually seeing myself in this position, being able to start on Sunday, it's amazing."
The Bears hit the practice fields at Halas Hall Wednesday afternoon as they continue to get ready for Sunday's matchup with the Browns in Cleveland.