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Steelers Tweaking Justin Fields Mechanics at OTAs

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Justin Fields is getting a new tweak to his mechanics at OTAs, it would appear.

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Pittsburgh Steelers QB Justin Fields
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Justin Fields during OTAs at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on May 21, 2024. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

The first day of voluntary OTAs is in the books and there’s a plethora of intriguing storylines to discuss after our first initial look at the 2024 version of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Newcomer Justin Fields had plenty to say during his first session with the local media, describing this is as the place that he wanted to be with the Chicago Bears choosing to move on from him in the offseason. But it wasn’t what he said that was particularly interesting to me. If you look closely, Justin Fields has started to make mechanical tweaks to his approach that will hopefully help jumpstart his career.

There’s a myriad of reasons that things didn’t work out as planned for Fields during his stint in Chicago, with some of those extending beyond his control. His struggles as a passer can partially be linked back to inconsistent mechanics, particularly his lower body which is something that I’ve talked about at length in recent months. With a new coaching staff dedicated to his development, he’s already making changes, starting with his stance in the shotgun.

Pittsburgh Steelers QB Justin Fields

Prior to Fields becoming a first-round selection in 2021, he dominated the college football landscape while at Ohio State. Like most college signal callers, he spent the majority of his time in the gun with his right foot up in a staggered stance. This would continue throughout his rookie season with the Bears. Once Chicago hired Luke Getsy as their offensive coordinator, he began to make changes to Fields’ mechanics, starting with reversing his stance to place his left foot in front.

Quarterback mechanics are like anything else in football, there are multiple ways to accomplish the same goal which is to get the passer to play at their very best. Getsy isn’t alone in his left foot first philosophy. Current New England Patriots offensive coordinator was very particular about teaching this approach after having so much success with future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers during his days with the Green Bay Packers. His ideas stem from the half-step being more “dance-like” for the quarterback while proving necessary benefits in quick game.

Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers

Other offensive minds such as Bengals head coach Zac Taylor prefer their quarterbacks to have their right foot up. A simple three-step drop is much different with inversed footwork. Ideally, you want a good first step that skims the grass and then two lighter, quicker steps before planting the back foot with all your cleats in the ground to load and then subsequently throw. Justin Herbert, who Steelers quarterbacks coach Tom Arth worked with in Los Angeles is a right foot first quarterback. However, it should be noted that new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith didn’t change Matt Ryan’s stance in 2021, but the remainder of the Falcons quarterbacks that succeeded him were right-foot first, which is the more common approach league wide.

Getting lined up to throw is something that coaches preach nonstop throughout times such as OTAs and this is something that held Fields back during his time with the Bears, with inexplicable misses underneath on his tape. He was inconsistent “setting the hallway” for easy completion. For right-handed quarterbacks trying to throw to the right side of the field, they’ll have a tendency to remain too open, failing to rotate and get the shoulders perpendicular to the intended receiver.

One area where I think having the right foot forward does indeed help is when trying to throw quick game to the left side of the field. With this approach, the left shoulder is already somewhat facing the left sideline, meaning that the passer doesn’t have to rotate quite as far to get aligned to his target. Even in this video, you can see Fields practicing a slight but noticeable pause to feel his legs loading, likely a coaching point to encourage a strong, consistent base to maintain good balance.

So why are the Steelers changing his Fields mechanics? We don’t have all of those answers right now and we may never fully get them either. Part of it could be that they want his stance and footwork to match Russell Wilson. Every NFL offense is built around timing, although some more than others. The half-step difference can cause the quarterback to feel rushed in his drop to the point where he’s hitching early, waiting on receivers to get to their landmark. In every pass concept, the goal is get the receivers breaks and quarterback’s footwork paired up in sync to where everything feels in rhythm for both parties. Ultimately, ensuring that the quarterback is comfortable is the most important aspect of coaching the position.

On its own, changing Justin Fields stance, footwork and general mechanics won’t necessarily be enough to turn his career around entirely. He acknowledged that there is more work to be done in order to hit his ceiling. However, if this approach can help speed up his notoriously slow drop back times or assist him in being more accurate underneath, there’s a reason for optimism here. Pittsburgh’s taking a low-risk dice roll on one of the more physically gifted athletes in the entire NFL. Now, the Steelers are going to try and turn him into a more complete quarterback.