Justin Fields inadvertently echoed basketball great Michael Jordan when asked about recent outside criticism of his work ethic. Jordan's "I took that personally" quote from "The Last Dance" has become a popular meme on social media. It's been used by several high-profile athletes -- Stephen Curry included -- when responding to naysayers.
Fields, one of the top-rated quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft, said he isn't worried about the criticism affecting his draft stock. That doesn't mean, however, that those negative comments have not put a sizable chip on his shoulder.
"I saw something on social media. It was kind of a big thing [that] they were questioning that," Fields told Kirk Herbstreit on the ESPN show "QB21". "I don't know if it's just a thing they were throwing out there or what, but I honestly take that personally. That's kind of a bigger insult to me than saying that I don't have a strong arm or saying I'm not accurate. Again, that's not going to do anything but make me work harder. I'm not worried about it one bit."
Ohio State coach Ryan Day has been outspoken when it comes to Fields' intangibles. Day's recent comments were largely in response against anonymous criticisms included in a recent report by ESPN's Dan Orlovsky.
"The whole idea that he doesn't have a very good work ethic?" Day told Peter King of NBC Sports. "(When) those other guys are opting out (in 2020), what's he do? He petitions to have a season. He put together this petition that the Big Ten athletes all signed saying that they want to play, but they want to play safely and that they don't accept canceling the season. It was all led by Justin Fields. Where was everybody else? Where were the guys who were opting out then? You know, you don't love the game if you're doing something like that. This kid loves the game.
"I heard something about (Fields being) the last one to come in, first one to leave. First off, the scouts weren't in our building all year. Last one in? Every morning, at least every morning we could be in the building, early, he's in with (Ohio State assistant) Mickey Marotti. The guys who were self-motivated and could do things on their own, those were the ones who made it. He was unbelievable. He changed his diet, he got stronger. He did better than most. ... I think some people are being a little reckless with their comments."
Fields' intangibles were on clear display during his greatest moment as a Buckeye. Despite suffering an injury to his midsection during Ohio State's College Football Playoff semifinal game against Clemson, Fields stayed in the game and threw six touchdown passes, an Ohio State bowl game record. All told, Fields went 22-for-28 for 385 yards while leading the Buckeyes to a 49-28 win.
As far as tangibles are concerned, Fields put together two solid pro day performances ahead of the draft. During his first pro day, the 6-foot-3, 228-pounder ran an impressive 4.43 in the 40-yard dash. He also threw an array of passes that included a 65-yard bomb that drew applause from seemingly everyone in attendance.
Fields was happy to change a possible misconception about his speed. While he wanted to run faster, Fields believes he likely ran faster than most people expected.
"My 40, it was a big part in what I wanted to show teams," Fields told Herbstreit. "I think my speed was [misunderstood]. … I wanted to show teams my actual speed. My goal was definitely a 4.3, but I think I showed teams that I was fast."
"I definitely think the game is evolved," he said. "Quarterbacks aren't always going to be in that position where they can get their feet set and throw. Definitely guys like Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, they've definitely changed the game up in terms of making off-platforms throws."
A quarterback who was ahead of his time was Steve McNair. A dual-threat weapon, McNair's unique skill set helped the Titans win their first AFC title in 1999. Eddie George, McNair's running back on the '99 Titans, thinks that Fields can do similar things while utilizing his talents.
"Justin's a warrior," George said on Herbstreit's show. "Watching him play against Clemson, just his tenacity. .... He refused to be denied. He was going to impose his will on Clemson. There was no way they were going to lose. I love that about him. He has all the physical attributes. He can run it. There's not a throw he can't make."
George also offered Fields advice on how a rookie quarterback can quickly win over an NFL locker room.
"Be yourself," he said. "You don't want to go in and do a whole bunch of talking. You want to live your creed by what you do, not what you say."