Roquan Smith Settling In With Bears Defense

September 20, 2018 - 3:33 pm

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- The combination of tremendous athleticism and instincts that rookie linebacker Roquan Smith possesses inspired belief in the Bears to make him the eighth overall pick this spring. They couldn't wait to get him on the field.

Sure enough, Smith was flashing those instincts Monday night during his Soldier Field debut. He started at inside linebacker, played 59 snaps with the defense and was flying around to the football. It was Smith's most significant game action since playing the national championship game with Georgia in January, a night that solidified his place as a top-10 pick.

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It wasn't a perfect performance, and there were mistakes of aggression, but it was a positive step for Smith.

"It's ball at the end of the day," Smith said. "I felt like my body was prepared for it. It wasn't like I'm going in thinking, second-guessing myself, like am I ready for something? I have full confidence in myself, and I just let my abilities display themselves."

Added coach Matt Nagy: "The lights were not too bright for him, and I think you saw that."

Smith played only eight snaps during the regular-season opener at Lambeau Field, which was planned given that he didn't have a preseason. The Bears and Smith couldn't settle on a rookie contract until Aug. 14 because of an impasse over language details. He then experienced hamstring tightness a week later and was shut down as the team instead focused on his conditioning level and transitioning him to game shape.

The contract impasse was the story of training camp but has since been mostly forgotten because of the play from this Bears defense. The addition of Khalil Mack also took some attention off Smith, who's settling into his role with the defense.

Smith recorded a sack of Packers quarterback DeShone Kizer on his first career snap. With every play along the way, his comfort grows.

"Really liked the way he played," defensive coordinator Fangio said of Smith's game against the Seahawks. "Had some really nice plays. Good tackler. Obviously he can run, and we’re thrilled to have him."

Aaron Lynch looks to back Bears' belief

Both Fangio and Smith pointed to a pair of missed tackles in assessing his performance Monday, but it's all part of the process for a rookie. He finished the game with seven tackles and a pass deflection. The key for Smith is establishing comfort in Fangio's defense -- similar to what quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is experiencing in Nagy's offense.

The Bears drafted Smith to be the quarterback of their defense, leading a group with promising young talent in store. The belief was that Smith could thrive in his role. He's making good progress early on.

"I definitely feel like there was a comfort level," he said. "Obviously, there are still some mistakes here and there. But that's part of the game. You try to aim for perfection even though perfection never really happens. I felt great in the defense."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.​​