NFL teams set aside a time for their starting quarterback and wide receivers to develop chemistry. It’s called training camp.
The Bears, though, have no such luxury — at least not with this quarterback. One of the fundamental flaws of Matt Nagy anointing Andy Dalton his unquestioned starter in the spring is that Dalton — not rookie Justin Fields — got to spend all OTAs and training camp running plays with the first-string receivers. Fields did so only rarely.
When Dalton got injured six quarters into the season, Fields was left to — among a laundry list of first-time responsibilities — learn his receivers’ preferences, tendencies and rhythms on the fly.
It’s not going well.
Expected to make a huge leap in Year 2, Darnell Mooney is averaging the same number of receptions per game as he did last year. Allen Robinson looks nothing like his former self — he’s averaging roughly half as many catches and receiving yards per game as he did last season. Receivers Marquise Goodwin and Damiere Byrd have combined for 13 catches and 120 yards all season.
Tuesday, Robinson stated the obvious when asked about his struggles synching up with Fields.
“There weren’t many snaps we took throughout training camp,” he said.
Chemistry comes from a Crock Pot, not a microwave. It’s built on the backs of off-campus spring throwing sessions, minicamps, training camp, practices and games. Dalton was the quarterback who did most of that this year.
“Of course, the more reps you get with your receivers the better chemistry you have,” Fields said. “It’s that simple, really.”
Fields then laid out a plan to try to make up for lost time.
“We have solid chemistry,” Fields said of Robinson. “We, of course, need to get better. It’s not the best in the country, of course, but we’re growing each and every day …
“Me, him and some other receivers are going to start meeting on Zoom by ourselves and kind of start getting our own thing together.”
Fields and the receivers plan to meet apart from their teammates to watch film on Zoom — and, perhaps when the team is out of a strict coronavirus protocol, in person. Doing so will allow them to talk through potential audibles and defensive tendencies.
The act of watching film together isn’t earth-shattering — the Bears already do that, in different groupings — but the Bears saying something needs to change at least acknowledges the dismal state of the offense.
They average 255.4 yards per game, the fewest in the NFL by 17 yards — and 205 yards less than the league-leading Cowboys. Their 124.4 passing yards per game ranks dead last, too — and is a whopping 200 yards per game less than the Buccaneers, who boast the best passing offense in football.
“it means a lot,” Mooney said of the meeting plan. “Obviously [Fields] wants to win. We want to win as well. So I mean, chemistry takes a long time to build up. But we’re trying to speed up the process, get it to where we need it to be right now. That’s the thing we’re working on.”
Asked how often they’ll meet on their own, Fields was blunt — “As much as we need to,” he said — even as he projected optimism that the offense will turn around.
“You just have those feelings,” he said. “You just feel it. It’s coming.”
Mooney does, too.
“You can see it,” he said. “You just gotta bring it from practice to the game … Everybody’s success echoes off of each other. It starts up front, and then it starts at the quarterback, then running back, run game, then receivers, you know?
“So we all gotta do our thing, do our job, and everything will work out as it should.”
That job, starting this week, includes an extra Zoom meeting.