Andy Dalton might not be long for Chicago, but he knows he enters the 2021 season as the Bears’ QB1. And for what it’s worth, he would like to keep it that way. However, Dalton’s reality is that — even if he starts all 17 games this season — his long-term plans don’t look like they’ll feature Chicago.
So, with that in mind, I found Dalton’s comments to be interesting when he was reflecting on his past, and it got me to thinking about how it could apply to Justin Fields’ development plan.
“I think the best thing you can do is play,” Dalton said, via Patrick Finley of the Sun-Times. “That’s the best experience you can get. When you see a new tweak, learning different defenses, learning different schemes, learning all the pressures that are going to come at you, you’re going to know the offense. I mean, you better know the offense. But it’s seeing how two different teams are going to attack you, what you’re going to do, how you’re going to respond, what plays are going to be good against certain things. The experience was such a big thing.”
If anyone knows the value of experience, it’s Dalton. The Bengals took Dalton in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft, and did not waste time throwing him to the wolves. Dalton was a Week 1 starter in 2011, a season in which he earned the first of three Pro Bowl nods. But, perhaps, more important than that is how Dalton never relinquished the job until 2019. For whatever his flaws and shortcomings are, Dalton was a stater for nine years — and a darn good one for a stretch from 2011-17. Let’s keep it real. Anyone who can lead the Bengals to *multiple* playoff appearances and a five consecutive seasons with a winning record to start their career was doing something right.
At some point, Fields will get the ball. He will get to do the things Dalton mentions above. Fields will get an opportunity to learn on a trial by fire basis. The time will (eventually) come for Dalton to yield to Fields, allowing him to learn defenses, make tweaks, attack, and apply the things he has learned throughout his development process. And while Fields will be trying to learn while on the sidelines, we won’t learn much about him until he gets to play. Ironically, Dalton (and how he performs) will play a huge role in dictating when that time will come.