For veteran Bears QB Dalton, learning new offense is like riding a bike
The learning process began almost as soon as Andy Dalton signed the dotted line.
"I was already starting to learn the offense," Dalton said. "Fortunately, having been around I think this is my seventh coordinator of my 11 years, I know how to adjust to a new offense."
The 33-year-old Bears quarterback is finally in the building at Halas Hall for organized team activities this week. But the learning process has been underway for a while now.
Dalton and the Bears agreed to the terms of a one-year contract on March 16. The first step, according to Dalton, was to study the playbook and reach out to his coaches with questions so that when OTAs began this week, he could hit the ground running.
While Dalton has seen his share of offensive coordinators over the years, Bears offensive coordinator Bill Lazor is one he is familiar with. The two worked together for three years in Cincinnati when Lazor was the quarterbacks coach (in 2016) and later the offensive coordinator (in 2017-18).
Much like a class in school, learning an NFL offense begins with a lot of review from last year.
"We started with covering what we felt like we needed to cover from last year," Lazor said. "And for the new guys, like Andy in the quarterback room, for example, that's introduction as well as review. So that happens at the same time. A lot of that is done separately so that guys can get specific, individualized coaching. As a coordinator, I can kind of go in and out of a lot of those meetings and see how they go."
After learning their individual positions, the quarterbacks will get together with other position groups in meetings (which are all held virtually at the moment). The QBs and the offensive line or the QBs and the receivers, and so on.
Once OTAs begin, as they have this week, everything accelerates because they can work through the nuances of the offense on the field.
"It's been fun to see Matt (Nagy) install all the plays and just to hear the way that he's gone about talking about every read that we have, every progression," Dalton said. "This is why we're calling it, this is what we're doing. Just his teaching."
Nagy has been impressed with Dalton's ability to make quick decisions within the offense so far during OTAs.
"He is doing a great job of making anticipatory throws, throwing the ball early," Nagy said. "If there's one thing that these wide receivers are going to come out of OTAs [with], and obviously from training camp, too, they're going to see that when that ball is supposed to be there, that ball is gonna be there. So they better get ready to put their hands up to catch it."
That's what OTAs are for: building chemistry. That means building chemistry between position groups, but also building chemistry within the quarterback room.
The Bears have one of the more intriguing quarterback rooms in the NFL right now. There's two experienced veterans in Dalton and Nick Foles (who have started a combined 197 regulars season games), and then there's rookie first-round draft pick Justin Fields, who oozes potential.
Dalton and Foles grew up zipping passes across high school fields throughout Texas at about the same time in the mid-2000s. Dalton played for Katy High School outside Houston and graduated in 2006. Meanwhile, Foles played at Westlake High School near Austin, Texas, and graduated a year later in 2007. The two never played each other, but Dalton said he was aware of Foles back then.
"It's been fun for me to get to be around him and follow his career from afar," Dalton said. "We've talked some. To finally get to be in the same room has been great."
Nagy said Wednesday that Fields will take reps with the second-team offense, while Foles will work with the third-team. Fields is settling into a learning role this summer.
And few quarterback rooms offer as much experience as Dalton and Foles.
"I've been a part of it in the meetings and the practice fields, with how it goes, the dynamics, and it's very natural," Nagy said. "Those guys have each others' backs."