The chemistry between Chicago Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields and veteran tight end Jesse James is, to borrow a Matt Nagy-ism, very real.
The 22-year-old QB and the seven-year vet developed solid chemistry taking second-team reps together leading up to the regular season, and when veteran Jimmy Graham tested positive for COVID-19 on October 19, James got an opportunity to see the field more, and he took advantage.
James has caught six passes on six targets for 58 yards and a score over the last two games, and most importantly, the franchise QB seems to like throwing to him:
In his November 4 column for NBC Sports, insider Adam Hoge called on Bears head coach Matt Nagy to keep Graham on the sidelines in favor of James primarily for this reason.
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Fields on James: ‘We Got a Connection’
For his part, Fields told the media he is already getting a good feel for james’ whereabouts when he’s on the field.
“By throwing so many routes (to James), I can kind of just tell where his body is gonna be,” Fields said on November 4. “He has a wide range where he’s long. He can go up and get it. Of course you guys saw Sunday he can go down low and catch the ball also. That connection was based in camp. … With the amount of reps we got in camp … he was pretty much running with my group every rep. I think we got a connection built there, just that foundation.”
When he was asked about the connection between his rookie signal-caller and James, the team’s third-string TE, Nagy said this:
“You see that. You feel it. That throw he made rolling to his left, first play of the third quarter? Jesse is a big target. He’s got long arms. And they do have that connection. They played together in the preseason. They had a couple of throwbacks … (during the preseason), down the sideline. And so I think that’s natural to have that.”
Nagy also hyped the return of Graham shortly after saying that, so what he’ll do is anyone’s guess, but Hoge is of the opinion Chicago needs to see what it has in this Fields-James connection — and he’s not wrong.
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Hoge: Nagy Can Attempt to Make Up for Preseason Error Now
According to Hoge, how things go for James and Graham in the Bears’ upcoming Week 9 contest against the Pittsburgh Steelers will be a good barometer for how many snaps Nagy plans to give both veteran TEs. Cole Kmet will be the team’s TE1, but will James usurp Graham, whose contract is consisting the Bears $7 million this season. For that price, he has caught one pass for 11 yards all season.
“It will be interesting to see how the tight end reps are split against the Steelers,” Hoge wrote, “Cole Kmet will continue to get the majority of the reps and targets as the No. 1 tight end, but if Fields has a trustworthy target in James, it seems silly to reduce his snaps. He played 54 percent of the snaps (38) against the 49ers. Graham’s season-high in a game is 25 snaps (39 percent against the Raiders).”
The Bears also restructured Graham’s contract this year, resulting in a $4.6 million dead cap hit in 2022, but at this point, it’s not about money. It’s about building around and developing Fields, and the rookie QB has made it known he likes .
“The Bears can’t change the lack of reps Fields received with the starters in training camp,” Hoge wrote, “but they can change the future reps he gets with the players he’s comfortable with. Jesse James is the perfect example.”
Will Nagy listen? Let’s see what Week 9 brings.