Roquan Smith landed in Chicago as an All-American, Butkus Award winning linebacker who was the best defensive player in college football’s premier conference. And yet, his head coach wasn’t ready to simply hand him a job based on what he did in the past. No sir, Smith was going to have to earn it.
So far, it sounds like he is doing just that:
#Bears DC Vic Fangio says team has been rolling 1st rd pick Roquan Smith through first team reps from time to time in OTAs at ILB.
— Brad Biggs (@BradBiggs) May 30, 2018
Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio said Smith has been participating with the first-team defense at times during OTAs. With all due respect to incumbent starting linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, there wasn’t much of a doubt that Smith would be seeing time with the first stringers sooner, rather than later. But still … it’s still encouraging to see a coach lay out a challenge for the player, have him accept it, and quickly go out and start to earn his place in the lineup. Smith always figured to be an important part in the Bears’ defense in 2018, but Smith’s expressed willingness to do whatever it takes suggests he’ll be more than just another contributor.
Rookies are going to earn their keep under Fangio and Head Coach Matt Nagy. Fangio has never been shy to express his feelings about a player, while Nagy (as an offensive coordinator) showed a willingness to thrust young impact players into important roles. You can see how Nagy used Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt in their rookie seasons as a point of reference. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Bears’ first three draft picks taking first-team reps early this summer. Of course, they’ll have to earn it first.
Bears General Manager Ryan Pace rolled the dice with ultra-athletic skill position players with tremendous upside who were still had some formative years left when it came to the developmental curve. Pace broke that trend in Year 4 by selecting Smith with the eighth pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Unlike Kevin White, Leonard Floyd, or Mitch Trubisky, Smith was the undisputed top-ranked player at his position on draft day and was as decorated as they come. But as we referenced above, what you did in college doesn’t mean much when you have to work your way back up from the bottom of the football food chain.