LAKE FOREST – Like the majority of the Bears in 2019, his second year in the Matt Nagy era wasn’t quite what it was in the first.
Roquan Smith went from playing all 16 games in his rookie year of 2018 to getting in just 12 in his second. He was a late scratch for the team’s Week 4 game with the Vikings then the final three games with a torn pectoral muscle.
After a bit of a midseason slump, Smith was playing better before his injury against the Cowboys on December 5th, making double-digits in tackles while registering his only two sacks and interception in the five week stretch.
Like a lot of other Bears, many wondered what the third season will hold for the Bears’ last first round pick from 2018. Good news for Smith is that his pectoral injury is healed, arriving for the drawn-out pandemic training camp at 100 percent.
“I’m just more so eager to get out and play the game that I love. I think everyone is very excited. Walkthroughs are one thing but just being able to put the pads back on and doing what you love day in and day out, that’s big-time,” said Smith. “I think we’re just all eager to play good ball. I’m just excited to see everyone come out and be the best version of themselves and push themselves each and every day.”
Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, who coached Smith for the first time last year, had praise for Smith during his first news conference of training camp. He believes the linebacker made the most of his offseason rehab work during the pandemic, and the focus can pay off.
“Coming back, he did a phenomenal job. Coming off the injury, he was a guy who could actually come in here, into the facility. So he was kinda ahead of the game that way because he was in here working with Jason, always getting treatment from Andre and the guys,” said Pagano of Smith. “He’s in phenomenal shape, he’s locked in, he’s engaged. Getting through the meeting to this point, the installs, we’ve had a couple of walkthroughs with those guys, he’s on top of it. He hasn’t skipped a beat.
“We’ve seen Pro Bowl-caliber play, now he just has to be consistent. Do it week in and week out and stay consistent, and I think coming into Year 3, he’s going to have a phenomenal year.”
What does Smith think he can do to raise the level of his game and create the strong combo with Danny Trevathan that was so successful in 2018?
“Run plays, I feel like that can get better. I feel like pass coverage, I think that could get better. So I feel like it’s everything in my game can get better because there’s never a time you get complacent and feel like ‘Oh, I do this at this level,'” said Smith of improvements in 2020. “Regardless of how good you do something, I feel like you can always do something a little bit better. So I’m just looking at that, that’s my game, just trying to be the best version of myself.”
Doing so will be tricky with a training camp where players won’t have contact practices till mid-August due to the pandemic. Smith could use some knowledge he gained his rookie year, where a contract holdout kept him out of the entire Bourbonnais portion of training camp.
“I feel like if you’re in good shape, playing good ball, you know your body, so you know what you need to do to get your body in the best shape that it can be,” said Smith. “So I think that’s just part of being a pro. I don’t think there’s any secrets to a lot of things. It’s more so just knowing what you need to do.
“Everyone is different so it varies depending on the individual.”
Hopefully his preparation can lead a solid third season in the Bears’ 3-4 defense.