Chicago Bears rookie linebacker Roquan Smith was one of the best overall football players I studied on film throughout the 2018 draft process. He has the natural instincts to find the ball, the speed at the second level and the fundamentals at the point of attack. This guy can play. And the skill set is there to make a smooth transition to today's pro game.
But after ending his contract holdout, how quickly can Smith impact the Bears' defense this season after missing almost a month of valuable practice reps in training camp? Let's discuss how Smith fits into Chicago's defensive scheme and more as the former Georgia star gets ready to start his NFL career.
Fit in Vic Fangio's defense
From a straight scheme perspective, playing under defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is an ideal fit for Smith. In your base 30 fronts, Smith is expected to play inside next to Danny Trevathan to give Chicago two linebackers who can run, hit and match in coverage. Yes, Smith will need some reps playing in a phone booth to stack, shed and defeat blocks. I get that. But the awareness he showed on his Georgia film to identify the run game and create clean lines to the ball will accelerate his development as a pro.
Plus, we have to talk about Smith's projected ability as a nickel linebacker. Fangio leans on his nickel package to keep two linebackers on the field, and that will cater to Smith's talent base. Think of the rookie carrying inside verticals, checking a tight end or running back in man defenses or simply dropping into a zone coverage. Read the quarterback and break on the throw, along with the skills to add to front as an extra rusher in blitz schemes. That leads to good football.
Upside of Bears' defensive front seven
Don't sleep on this Bears defense or the front seven. This unit has some real upside heading into the regular season with Fangio pulling the strings in the game plan. And Smith is that upgrade at the second level to track ball carriers and create havoc behind the big guys up front. Defensive end Akiem Hicks can wreck things. Push the pocket and fold up blockers.
Nose tackle Eddie Goldman will eat up space for Smith to find the rock and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd has the athleticism to take a major step forward this season. Sure, there are questions on the edge opposite Floyd, but adding Smith -- with a secondary that made plays on the ball in 2017 -- gives Fangio the personnel to script a call sheet that produces results.
Why Smith can make an immediate impact
There are some lost reps to make up due to Smith's holdout. And the Bears' defensive coaches will have to work some overtime to get him game-ready. Pre- and post-practice sessions will be needed to drill down terminology, adjustments and defensive communication. Plus, don't forget about Smith's conditioning level after missing all of camp in Bourbonnais, Illinois. The rookie needs game reps in the upcoming preseason matchups to get his legs under him. But I believe there is enough time to have Smith prepped for Week 1 under the lights at Lambeau Field versus Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
Even if Smith doesn't get the nod to start the opener, his impact can still be on display as a sub-package defender. This is a modern-day linebacker with 4.51 speed to get from sideline to sideline and the ability to finish plays in the open field. And once he gets rolling, the Bears will have a rookie who will not only upgrade the defense, but also creates consistent disruption under Fangio.