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Steelers Analysis

What’s the Real Story Behind Justin Fields’ Spring Performance?

With so much debate surrounding the topic, what is the real story about Justin Fields’ performance within the Steelers organization?

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Pittsburgh Steelers QB Justin Fields
Pittsburgh Steelers QB Justin Fields at the team's OTAs, June 4, 2024 - Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

PITTSBURGH — The talk around Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Justin Fields has reached a fever pitch the week after mandatory minicamp. That is fascinating, considering there was plenty of talk around Fields during the entire process. Still, regardless, most of it stemmed from Mark Kaboly listing Fields as a ‘loser,’ mainly because he feels that Russell Wilson has a chokehold on the QB1 job. To put into perspective the comments that Kaboly made that blew up and caused this firestorm around Fields, here is the direct excerpt.

“Don’t get bent out of shape with Fields finding himself on this list. His talent speaks for itself. But unlike Wilson, he has a lot of obstacles to overcome for an opportunity this year. Fields didn’t get many first-team reps, and that’s significant come training camp. More than that, you can see what made him a first-round pick … and also what made the Chicago Bears move on. The arm strength, speed and playmaking with his legs are undeniable. However, he showed inconsistent accuracy and relied on his feet too quickly after the first read. That stuff can be fixed, but maybe not throughout a training camp,” Kaboly wrote.

Justin Fields

Pittsburgh Steelers QB Justin Fields at the team’s OTAs, June 4, 2024 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

I will be blunt: there is nothing particularly buzzy about that excerpt. The second to last sentence caught people’s eye, where Kaboly notes Fields’ inconsistent accuracy and, at times, questionable processing. Kaboly never outright said that Fields struggled but listed negatives that he faced relative to his competition with Wilson. However, it has undoubtedly been interpreted in that context.

So, what did he look like? I was pretty impressed by some of the throws that Fields made. The arm talent is dazzling, and it’s not hard to see why he was a first-round pick. He fits balls into tight windows all over the field, and I thought his deep ball looked fantastic. Considering he is one of the most prolific deep ball passers of the last few seasons in the NFL, that tracks.

When it came to what Justin Fields did well, it was his arm talent, instant acceleration and elusiveness, and transparent leadership to the guys he worked with throughout the offseason phases. I also thought he took well to Wilson mentoring him and soaked in most of what Wilson told him during drills. There is a rapport between Fields and Wilson that is rare in a situation where there would be competition looming.

By the way, I still think there is a legitimate competition. Fields will get a chance. I’ve seen many people say that Fields will have no shot or that they expect Fields to win. I come down in the middle of that, but I hope Wilson will start based on what I saw in the spring. I thought he was better than Fields. And really, that is Kaboly’s point in this note. If Fields wanted to win that competition, he would have to be much better than Wilson. I have not seen that, and Wilson had solid OTAs and minicamp.

Pittsburgh Steelers QB Justin Fields

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Justin Fields at OTAs on June 4, 2024. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

For Fields, I thought the inconsistent accuracy showed up entirely in the intermediate portion of the field. Underneath and deep, he was on the money. But Fields sprayed balls all over the place, especially outside the numbers, in the intermediate portion of the field. Meanwhile, Wilson did not have that same issue that sometimes popped up.

Either way, I would say Fields was solid in OTAs and minicamp and that Kaboly’s excerpt got taken out of context and run with to another degree. I think he has the electricity to his game that few in the league have, but the natural shortcomings that popped up on his Bears tape did not suddenly disappear.

There’s little nuance when talking about discussions like this. It’s either good or bad in the world of instant validation. For example, another account on X stated that a source told them Fields appeared ‘disengaged’ at practices.

Multiple sources told Steelers Now that Fields is engaged and ‘very active’ in meetings and on the practice field. He has remained attentive to learning the playbook, going out of his way to develop chemistry with the team’s pass catchers, and has embraced learning from Wilson.

On the field, those same sources highlighted the noticeable inconsistent accuracy in the intermediate portion of the field. Still, they pointed out his arm talent to make dazzling throws, especially 20 or more yards down the field. That’s all to say: the hubbub about Fields’ performance this spring is absurd.

Saying he ‘struggled’ is hyperbolic, just as I would say calling his performance ‘excellent’ is on that side of the spectrum, too. It’s early in the process, but the hand-wringing over how Fields performed is going in a tribalistic direction bordering on toxicity.

We’ll see more of what Justin Fields can do at training camp and in the preseason, where his legs will become more of a factor than in drills and team periods without pads. Fields is doing fine with two critical areas in intermediate accuracy and processing throughout the offense that he should want to improve upon.