Justin Fields Is Eager To Start Over In Pittsburgh, Even As A Backup Behind Russell Wilson

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Justin Fields throws a pass during the team's NFL OTA's football practice in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. (Sebastian Foltz/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Justin Fields throws a pass during the team's NFL OTA's football practice in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. (Sebastian Foltz/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)
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PITTSBURGH (AP) — Justin Fields could sense his time in Chicago was up at his exit meeting in January.

While Bears general manager Ryan Poles didn't outright tell Fields the organization was going to look for another quarterback after three uneven seasons with the talented but inconsistent Fields running the offense, Poles didn't have to.

Fields could sense it in Poles' body language.

So when Fields received a call while eating dinner in Italy in mid-March that he was heading to Pittsburgh, the initial reaction wasn't shock, but relief quickly followed by optimism.

Even though the Steelers had just signed Russell Wilson and tabbed him as the starter. Even knowing there was almost no chance Pittsburgh would exercise Fields' fifth-year option. Even facing uncertainty as to what happens beyond 2024.

Fields remembers watching a hype video while at Ohio State that featured Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. And then all of a sudden, there Fields was on Tuesday, listening to Tomlin give the Steelers — Fields included — a pep talk before the beginning of organized team activities.

“The culture that Coach T has and just the standard that the Steelers have set, this organization has set, I think that was the biggest appeal for me,” Fields said.

The 25-year-old Fields credited Poles for putting him in a situation where he wanted to be, even if that means his name isn't atop the depth chart.

Asked if it bothered him that he wasn't traded to a place where he could start right away, Fields shook his head and said he wasn't “worried about who was here, none of that."

The chance to play for Tomlin and be part of a franchise known for its stability (though that may be changing considering the roster turnover over the past four months), outweighed everything else.

“I’m grateful to be here and grateful to be a part of this team,” he said.

A team that completely revamped its offense after a first-round playoff loss to Buffalo. All three quarterbacks who started games for the Steelers last season — Kenny Pickett, Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph — are gone. So is former offensive coordinator Matt Canada and leading wide receiver Diontae Johnson.

There is a sense of urgency within the organization with the team nearing eight years removed from its most recent postseason victory. Pittsburgh hired former Atlanta Falcons coach Arthur Smith to run the offense and drafted two potential cornerstones in tackle Troy Fautanu and center Zach Frazier.

Fields is eager to learn from Wilson and push him at the same time, while still firmly believing his best football is ahead of him.

“I think I have a lot more room to grow,” he said. "I’m nowhere near my ceiling for sure.”

He will get a chance to try and reach it without having the pressure — at least initially anyway — of being a franchise savior, as he was in Chicago. It's telling that while Wilson did a formal news conference on Tuesday in front of a backdrop next to the practice field, Fields chatted at his locker, as backups do.

It's a role he hasn't been in for a while. He's aware of and understands how things sit at the moment. Just don't confuse maturity with complacency.

“I’m definitely competing,” he said. “I think Russ knows that. We’re competing against each other every day. Him being out there for me helps me get better. (We are) pushing each other so I mean I definitely don’t have the mindset of me just sitting all year.”

Perhaps because he won't. The Steelers haven't had a quarterback start every game during the season since 2018, though Wilson has proven pretty durable, missing only a handful of games during his 12-year career.

When he gets an opportunity is out of Fields' control. For now, there is just a chance to start over. He endured a lot of “ups and downs” with Chicago, though he stressed he has "nothing but love for the city, for the fans and for my old teammates and coaches.”

Those feelings are already taking root in his town. Fields said he's engaged in long conversations with Uber drivers during trips to the airport, and praised his new teammates for helping him feel welcome.

It didn't work out as he wanted in Chicago. A new chapter awaits.

“I’m not the same quarterback as I was last year and I’m not even the same quarterback I even was yesterday,” he said. “So I’m going to continue to get better each and every day.”

NOTES: Steelers DE Cam Heyward did not attend the beginning of OTAs — which are voluntary — for the first time in his 14-year career. Heyward is entering the final season of his contract and is eyeing a new deal. Tomlin said he isn't concerned about Heyward's absence. ... RB Najee Harris, whose fifth-year option was not picked up by the Steelers, did participate. Harris took the field about an hour late while dealing with what Tomlin called a “personal matter.” Harris, who has topped 1,000 yards rushing in each of his first three seasons, declined an interview request afterward.


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