Bears GM backs Fields, ‘encouraged’ by progress

    Covered the 49ers, Raiders and Warriors for the San Jose Mercury News. She joined ESPN in 2017.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles expressed support for quarterback Justin Fields during an impromptu news conference inside Gillette Stadium hours before his team took on the New England Patriots on “Monday Night Football.”

“I know Justin has been a big topic and his development,” Poles said. “And we’re encouraged with the progress that is there. It’s not on the statistics and on the paper all the time, but he is getting better in a lot of different areas. I think as a whole, we’ve got to continue to play better around him as well to allow him to keep playing well and get his confidence going and execute at a high level.”

Fields ranks toward the bottom of the NFL in most statistical categories through his first six games of the season. The second-year quarterback is 32nd in completion percentage (54.8%), off-target percentage (24.4%), sack percentage (13.5%) and pressure percentage (46.2%). He also has the second-worst interception percentage (4.3%) and completion percentage over expectation (-10.7%), according to Next Gen Stats.

Poles said he will be looking at “a few different things” in his evaluation of Fields over the Bears’ next 11 games.

“How he’s being used? Are we putting him in the position where he can be successful? And then the execution and the details of what he’s being asked to do and really speeding up to the game and making decisions quicker,” Poles said. “But again, the beautiful thing about football, it’s reliant on everybody else. As a whole, we have to improve, and I think we’ll see that everyone stats to get better and then we’ll start to ascend.”

In Chicago’s most recent game against the Washington Commanders, a 12-7 loss on Oct. 13, Fields was pressured 18 times, a new career high. Poles expressed concern over the quarterback being hit as often as he has been this season but did not solely pin blame on the offensive line, noting that there is “room for improvement” for Fields in getting rid of the ball faster.

“I would say that when you watch the tape, there is give-and-take on that,” Poles said. “I think it’s a little bit of executing faster. But then there are also some protection things that need to improve, as well. So it’s really a holistic view that needs to improve for him to stay upright.”

Poles was hired in January and led the Bears through the beginning stages of a rebuild during the offseason. The general manager opted to spend Chicago’s top two draft picks on cornerback Kyler Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker, both of whom have started every game through six weeks.

The general manager did not second-guess his decision to not invest more in the offensive line and receiving corps while expressing unprompted praise for rookie left tackle Braxton Jones, whom the Bears selected with a fifth-round pick.

“No. To speak on that, I have been happy with where Braxton is,” Poles said. “I think he’s a young player. There are going to be ups and downs, for sure. And these defensive lines are like no joke. So he continues to grow, he continues to get better. There are going to be ebbs and flows with that. I think Lucas [Patrick] has done nice things for the culture of our offensive line. You guys have talked very early about Justin getting hit and not seeing like him being back. That’s improved. And we are going to continue to move things around and see if we can get that front to jell and continue to improve.”

When asked about potentially upgrading Chicago’s receiving corps with the Nov. 1 trade approaching to improve the play around Fields, Poles said, “I think regardless, we’re always going to be active in the terms of if it’s making phone calls or picking up the phone and just seeing if that is something that can improve our team and it makes sense for us, not only for now, because I’ve always talked about this, it’s sustaining success for a long period of time. It’s not the short fix all the time. Just blending that together is tough because it takes a lot of discipline to do. So that’s what we’re balancing.”

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