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Adam Hoge mailbag: Why Justin Fields controls the Bears' rebuild timeline

Adam Hoge Avatar
July 13, 2022

There’s some serious vacation time on the horizon before the Bears officially report to training camp in Lake Forest on Jul. 26, but before I shut it down for a couple weeks, I thought it would be fun to do a summer-edition mailbag. 

There’s no limit to these topics. Sure, there’s plenty of Bears chatter for you to chew on, but we’re also talking pizza, road trips, Derrick Rose, and even Minnesota steakhouses. Why not?

Hope you enjoy this mailbag and we’ll catch up when Bears training camp kicks off:

This is a great first question, but it’s hard to answer for a first-time head coach without any evidence to evaluate. It would be easy to assume that a defensive-minded head coach would tend to trust his defense and be more conservative on fourth down, but then again, Chargers head coach Brandon Staley went crazy with fourth down conversions last season. Of course, he has Justin Herbert at quarterback. In general, the league has shifted towards more aggression on fourth down because the analytics favor it, but that also depends on personnel. The reality is that this offense has to be much better on first and second down before Eberflus can trust the unit to convert fourth downs. 

By “not great stories for Poles,” I assume you are talking about the failures to sign Larry Ogunjobi and Ryan Bates, the three arrests of players the GM signed this offseason, and the uncomfortable firing of Soup Campbell, who had a say in hiring Poles in January. Yeah, when you put it like that, I think they are all situations worth monitoring. To me, the issue with the arrests is the accountability factor. It’s debatable if any of the arrests of Byron Pringle, Matthew Adams and David Moore warranted an immediate release from the roster, but if you don’t eventually send a message that off-the-field incidents matter, then you’re going to have more incidents follow. At least publicly, we haven’t seen that accountability yet. 

That said, keep in mind that Poles is doing this job for the very first time and he’s going to learn some lessons along the way. The Ogunjobi situation was certainly a lesson to learn from. Personally, I’d recommend not firing someone while they are on vacation, but that’s just me. At the same time, I disagree with the notion that he hasn’t had any “wins.” I’d call Poles’ NFL Draft process a win. That’s different from declaring the actual draft class a success, but I liked the way he stuck to his board, found plug-and-play contributors and managed to add a ton of draft capital on Day 3. More times than not, that will pay off. 

In my 12 years covering the Bears, the best trip — by far — was the trip to London and Tottenham Stadium in 2019. It also doesn’t hurt to have Las Vegas in the rotation now. But I have to say, it’s hard to beat going to Lambeau Field every year. It’s a special stadium, it’s easy to get to from Chicago, and the football vibes are just different when you get there. Most cities are known for something outside of football, but Green Bay is known for the Packers. Lambeau Field is the tourist attraction. When you drive into town, the stadium is all you see. And the tailgating — with both Packers and Bears fans mixed in — can’t be beat. I love it. 

Honorable mentions: Denver, Minneapolis, Nashville. 

Easy answer: Detroit. It hasn’t helped that we’ve had to spend many Thanksgivings in Detroit recently, but there’s just not much to enjoy about that trip. Even the stadium is just … fine.

Dishonorable mentions: Cleveland, Cincinnati.

What Poles is doing so far is pretty sensible for a first-year general manager trying to clean up a bad salary cap situation with a flawed roster. 2022 is essentially an evaluation year. Fields is obviously the biggest piece of that evaluation, and you’re right, if he fails to develop, then the Bears are probably going to have to spend more money and/or another first-round pick on a quarterback. But the ideal scenario is that Fields has a great year and Poles has the salary cap flexibility to supplement the roster around him.

I know everyone wants a clear answer on the timeline, but the truth is, it’s up to Justin Fields. If he’s good, you can’t afford to move slowly through a rebuild. This is the NFL. If you’re “rebuilding,” it means you don’t have a quarterback. No sane general manager would waste the final two years of a stud quarterback’s rookie contract (not to mention prime years of Roquan Smith’s career) moving through a slow rebuild. If Fields takes off in 2022, I would expect Poles to strike quickly next offseason. But if there are still question marks about Fields after this season, then there are lessons to be learned from the Ryan Pace era. Pace double-downed on Mitchell Trubisky too soon and went all-in with a flawed roster. 

The reality is that Chris Ballard is on his fifth different starting quarterback in the last five years and Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement drastically changed what the GM was building in Indianapolis. The first thing the Bears have to do is find stability at quarterback. If Fields provides that, the rebuild timeline will accelerate quickly. 

Recency bias on this one would point to Justin Fields, but in answering this question, I tried to take myself back to those late afternoon practices in Bourbonnais in the early Jay Cutler years. In the end, the results didn’t pan out with Cutler, but on the practice field, he sure looked every part of a true franchise quarterback. 

Getting to the second part of your question, I guess that’s a good lesson in not putting too much stock in what’s happening in practice. Eventually, these guys have to prove they can read the field and make tough, accurate throws in games. Fields has had his moments in practice, but I think the better examples of him making special plays are on tape in last year’s games against the 49ers and Steelers. Matt Nagy called the over-the-top throw to Jimmy Graham in Pittsburgh “probably a top-three throw in the NFL this season.” 

It really seemed like Fields was getting over the hump midseason last year and then everything from injuries to coaching to COVID-19 went against him the rest of the season. I think we’ll find out relatively quickly this year if those performances against the 49ers and Steelers were a blip or what we should come to expect from Fields going forward.

Call me crazy, but I’m starting to come around on the Minnesota Vikings. They have legitimate weapons on offense and were already capable of putting up big offensive numbers under Mike Zimmer’s conservative approach. New head coach Kevin Connelly could unlock a dangerous unit there. And on the defensive side, the talent is a little suspect, but Ed Donatell is a really good coach who is installing Vic Fangio’s 3-4 system there. The Packers are still the easy favorite in the NFC North, but there’s a world in which they struggle without Davante Adams and the Vikings sneak in to win the division. I’m not predicting that will happen, but if you’re asking me for a possible surprise, that’s on my radar. 

Ranalli’s in Lincoln Park. Moretti’s in Edison Park. Palermo’s on 95th. That should cover you in all directions. 

Gotta go medium-rare. Always. Truth is, I love many different cuts, but would rank my top 3: 1. Ribeye, 2. Filet, 3. Strip. Love the versatility of flank steak though.

We didn’t have to change the name. I just never really liked “Intentional Grounding” for some reason and thought it was better for branding to have our names in it. Many don’t remember that Adam Jahns wasn’t part of the podcast when it first launched so once we had it established with us together, the name change seemed to make sense. 

Mancini’s Char House in St. Paul. Old school with an awesome atmosphere. 

Carm, you know this answer: Derrick Rose. I’ve never been more excited about a Chicago draft pick and it still causes me actual pain to think about how Rose’s career got derailed by that knee injury.

I’m not in the mood to talk about the White Sox right now. 

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