Just as one wait ends, another begins.
Roquan Smith and the Chicago Bears have officially agreed to terms on a contract (details here), ending a 29-day holdout and clearing a path for the rookie linebacker’s long-awaited debut. But just how long do we have to keep waiting? Well …
ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweets that Smith could play as soon as Saturday’s road tilt against the Denver Broncos. And while we’re hesitant to push him that quickly (more on that in a second), it’s not entirely out of the question.
For that to happen, Smith will have to be in 1) good enough physical condition to play at a mile-high altitude and 2) know the playbook well enough (so-to-speak). Admittedly, that would be asking a lot from a player who’s already missed 18 practices and two preseason games. But since Smith has been long regarded as a quick learner with strong instincts, I simply can’t rule out Saturday. Perhaps joining the Bears-Broncos joint practices ahead of Saturday’s game could help accelerate his learning of Vic Fangio’s defensive scheme, something teammate Danny Trevathan has already said he is willing to help with whenever Smith signed.
On the other hand, Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times seems unsure about the idea of Smith playing this weekend. Even if Smith were to sit out Saturday’s contest, the Bears still have two more preseason games for the University of Georgia product to get up to speed and familiarize himself with game action. For what it’s worth, Bears GM Ryan Pace and Head Coach Matt Nagy have expressed a belief that Smith was keeping in shape despite his holdout. If that happens to be true, Smith could conceivably play a limited number of game snaps on Saturday to get his feet wet before getting an extended look in the team’s final two preseason games.
A more realistic target for Smith’s debut is on August 25 against the Kansas City Chiefs. The idea of Smith playing his first professional snaps in front of the Soldier Field faithful seems like a storybook idea, but what about playing against the Green Bay Packers in the team’s regular season debut in Week 1?
The Bears and Packers are scheduled to square off in 27 days. I suppose that that two preseason games and three weeks of practice could provide ample opportunity for Smith to play catch-up and get up to speed with things. And if he is impressive enough in those opportunities, he could even play his way into the starting lineup. While it’s tough to envision that happening, it can’t be totally ruled out. Smith didn’t miss any OTAs or other offseason training program events, so it’s possible that he isn’t actually all that far behind.
But still … Coach Nagy shared a belief that Smith’s lengthy holdout could have negatively impacted the rookie’s playing status for Week 1. As important as being in tip-top physical shape and getting a feel for the speed of the pro game will be to Smith’s success, we need to account for Smith picking up the communication skills necessary to take full command while at inside linebacker. Tack on the trust factor that Smith needs to gain from his teammates, Smith will have a lot on his plate between now and the season opener.
It won’t be a smooth path moving forward. But this is why the Bears’ coaches get paid the big bucks … to get the most out of a player the front office put a whole lot of stock into this spring. Let the games begin, whether it’s this coming Saturday or the next. It’s full speed ahead for Roquan Smith and the Chicago Bears.