Bears quarterback Andy Dalton plays against the Dolphins in the first preseason game. | Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Bears coaches — and fans — will judge his performance Sunday at SoFi Stadium against what’s behind door No. 2. That’s Justin Fields.
At first, Andy Dalton wasn’t Russell Wilson.
Then he wasn’t Justin Fields.
All along — from when he signed a one-year deal in mid-March, past when his team drafted the rookie quarterback and throughout training camp — Dalton been the Bears’ starter. And this is what he’s had to show the court of public opinion over almost six months: 33 ho-hum preseason snaps.
That changes Sunday when the Bears play the Rams.
“There’s a lot that’s gone on since March, but all that’s led to this point right here,” Dalton said Wednesday. “Regardless of everything that’s gone on, we’re here at Week 1, and this is exactly what I wanted. I wanted this opportunity, and now we’re looking forward to making the most of it.”
Bears coaches — and fans — will judge his performance Sunday at SoFi Stadium against what’s behind door No. 2. That’s Fields, whose standout training camp has hastened the timeline for a quarterback transition. To what extent, the Bears aren’t saying. Dalton figures to keep the job as long as he plays well, but that’s no guarantee for a quarterback whose passer rating last season was almost identical to Mitch Trubisky’s career mark.
Dalton starting in Week 1 caps a stressful offseason for Bears fans. In the week leading up to NFL free agency, the Bears made a monster trade offer for Wilson — but the Seahawks decided they couldn’t part with their quarterback. The Bears told Dalton — who also considered the 49ers, among other teams — would be the starter when he signed a one-year, $10 million contract. Six-and-a-half weeks later, they drafted Fields.
Dalton’s start Sunday is set against that backdrop — though he can’t let himself think that way.
“That’s the worst thing you can do, is, look over your shoulder,” he said. “So. I think that’s understanding that is key. …
“We’re talking about tuning out the stuff you don’t need to focus on and knowing where you need to put your time and effort and all that kind of stuff. I think that’s just where I’m at. You don’t worry about all the other stuff.”
Even as they gush about Fields’ potential, the Bears have been pleased with Dalton in practice.
“I’ve seen his play speed affect the offense,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. “I’ve seen his cadence affect the offense, his tempo in and out of the huddle affect the offense. And there’s no doubt that his confidence has affected the offense.”
There’s hope at Halas Hall that Dalton’s experience alone gives them an upgrade over what they had in Trubisky and his skillset is an uptick above Nick Foles. At walk-throughs, when the Bears send complicated blitzes at their offenses as a mental exercise, Dalton has been unfazed. He’s seen it all.
“There tends to be very little panic from a guy who’s faced it before and has had success,” Lazor said. “That’s just kind of what he brings to the table. That gets pushed onto everybody when he’s calling the plays. Or even when something gets messed up he can say, ‘Wait a second, we can do it this way’ — and he has an answer ready.
“He’s learned the language and the different tools we have to respond to problems and he’s ready to apply them. And, again, a lot of it is because he had to before.”
He hasn’t seen many defenses like the Rams, though — no one allowed fewer points per game or yards per play last year.
“This is going to be a good test to start the year,” he said.
For the Bears — and more so for Dalton.