LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP)This time last year, Tyson Bagent was nearing the end of a record-setting career at Division II powerhouse Shepherd University and getting ready for what turned out to be a romp at West Chester (Pennsylvania).
The quarterback has come a long way since then. From a small college in West Virginia to starting for a founding NFL franchise as an undrafted rookie, it’s quite a jump.
The Chicago Bears expect Bagent to be behind center with Justin Fields recovering from a dislocated right thumb when they host the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday.
“The details, a lot of details,” Bagent said about the difference between D-II and the pros. “Obviously the team I’m going against Sunday is a little bit better than West Chester. But other than that, the other team is a little bit smarter than they were a year ago and there are quite a bit more details than there were a year ago. Other that that, you just play hard and operate in sync with the guys you’ve got.”
The Bears (1-5) looked like they just might be finding a rhythm on offense, only to have it squashed by Minnesota in a 19-13 loss last week.
Before that, the Bears had two promising games, including a win at Washington that snapped a 14-game skid. Fields posted two of the best passing performances of his career against Denver and the Commanders.
Then he got thrown off by the blitzing Vikings. Fields exited early in the third quarter after he landed awkwardly on his right arm as he tried to flip the ball away on a sack by Danielle Hunter.
Fields did not practice Wednesday, and coach Matt Eberflus said again that he likely won’t play against the Raiders.
The team is waiting until the end of the week to evaluate the swelling in Fields’ thumb and how well he can grip the ball before making any decisions. The Bears have not ruled out surgery.
“Other people that have had this injury, it’s gone that way where they’ve taped it and gone through it and they’ve played, and it’s been a week to week thing, and then all the way to having surgery and them being out,” coach Matt Eberflus said. “We don’t know where it is yet. We’ll figure it out later in the week.”
The injury comes at a tough time for Fields. He’s 6-25 as a starter in three seasons, and the Bears will have to decide whether to exercise his fifth-year option for 2025.
Bagent completed 10 of 14 passes for 83 yards in his debut. He ran for a 1-yard touchdown. But he also committed two turnovers as Chicago lost for the 15th time in 16 games.
Bagent got strip-sacked by Josh Metellus and Jordan Hicks returned the fumble 42 yards for a touchdown to make it 19-6. The Bears were within six points with about two minutes remaining and had the ball in Vikings territory when Bagent underthrew DJ Moore on a deep pass that Byron Murphy Jr. intercepted. Bagent said he was “greedy in the situation” and should have checked down with the Vikings closing in on him.
“I think in hindsight, you think one on one with DJ, that’s always a great idea,” he said. “But then as soon as you get a bunch of crap in your face, it’s nothing to move out of the way, check it down and survive and play the next play.”
Bagent, who grew up in Martinsburg, West Virginia, said he and his dad, Travis, had a feeling early on that he would play in the NFL. He set all kinds of records in college, including the NCAA’s all-division mark with 159 career touchdown passes, and finished with more completions (1,400) and yards passing (17,034) than any other Division II quarterback. In 2021, Bagent won the Harlon Hill Trophy, Division II’s equivalent of the Heisman.
He said he never thought staying at Shepherd rather than transferring to a Division I school would stop him from getting to the NFL. He did, however, acknowledge it might have hindered his stock.
“But I felt like I was already playing for the best coaching staff,” he said. “I felt like I was already in a winning situation. I think hindsight, I definitely made the right decision in staying and coming back.”
Since signing last spring, he has impressed the Bears with his poise and command of the playbook and huddle. He’s gone from third string to backup and, it appears, starter for at least a week.
“It speaks to his hard work,” receiver Tyler Scott said.
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