Jack Sanborn and Nicholas Morrow are Filling the Roquan Smith Role Nicely

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Jack Sanborn and Nicholas Morrow are Filling the Roquan Smith Role Nicely

Chicago Bears

With the Lions driving on the Bears in the fourth quarter, rookie linebacker Jack Sanborn made an excellent play on a Jared Goff pass to bring down an interception that would have sealed the deal.

And the Bears already up 14 points, this should’ve been a dagger that would’ve sucked the life out of Detroit:

Sanborn’s interception (or, what woulda-coulda-shoulda-been interception) was a point of emphasis for the Bears in game planning for the Lions. And particularly defending running back De’Andre Swift. Listening to Sanborn explain the play after the game was confidence-inspiring stuff that has everyone high on the local product.

“We communicated pretty well,” Sanborn said, via NBC Sports Chicago. “We thought the back was going to take more of an angle route, but he actually took it more vertical. Pre-snap we said that I was going to be there for him on that inside. Quarterback didn’t get enough air under it and I was fortunate to be there.”

Unfortunately, the interception was negated by a questionable hands-to-the-face call on Jaylon Johnson which led to a Lions touchdown on the next play. The rule includes the neck as part of the face, and Johnson certainly got some of the neck on that one. But it felt like a play where the officials were reacting to the player down, and they changed the complexion of the game with that call.

Please make no mistake. Johnson was not good enough on Sunday, but that call was as ticky-tacky as it gets.

Bears Head Coach Matt Eberflus called Sanborn’s would-be game-clinching interception in the fourth quarter “a game changer for him and his growth.” Meanwhile, w asked how he felt about the penalty that robbed him of an enormous highlight interception, Sanborn said: “it just wasn’t meant to be, I guess.”

Negated interception be damned, Sanborn had a monster game in his second NFL start, logging 12 tackles (nine solo and two for a loss!) and two sacks.

Despite logging 89 tackles (16 for loss) and five sacks in his senior season at Wisconsin last year, Sanborn never heard his name called on draft day. Sanborn — a Lake Zurich native — found his NFL start with the Chicago Bears. And after moving Roquan Smith ahead of the NFL’s trade deadline, Sanborn has been showing why he should have been drafted. It’s just two games, but he’s made a strong impression in his new role.

We saw Sanborn flash on tape all summer. We saw him play well in the preseason. But seeing him ball out in a starting role in the regular season is all sorts of exciting. Everyone loves homegrown talent stories, and we know that Bears fans love their linebackers.

But beyond the fanfare storylines that write themselves, Sanborn being a guy would be a massive development for the Bears. He still makes rookie mistakes like overcommitting on plays and getting himself out of position, but he’s two starts into his NFL career, and that can be cleaned up. The sample size is small, but there’s no denying that the tape looks good. And it looks particularly good for GM Ryan Poles.

Poles drew a firm line in the sand with Roquan Smith when it came to extension negotiations. Eventually, Poles traded Smith and essentially called for the next man up when he knew there wouldn’t be a happy ending. Poles took a lot of heat from fans and pundits for that move, especially when he flipped the Bears’ second-rounder for Chase Claypool hours later. And while it’s still too early to know completely what type of GM Poles will be. But we know this: He is resolute in his evaluation of players. Poles didn’t value Roquan as the top-paid linebacker in football. And instead, Poles is filling the roles Smith could’ve filled with an undrafted free agent and a sixth-year linebacker who they picked up on a one-year, $3 million. Because we shouldn’t lose sight of what Nicholas Morrow did yesterday in tandem with Smith.

Morrow has played well for much of the season, and yesterday was no different as he logged six solo tackles (including three tackles-for-loss) in taking the weakside linebacker role in Smith’s absence. Morrow is a veteran in the middle of the defense that will handle getting the plays — something Roquan did previously — and provide speed on the weak side.

Even still … it’s Sanborn that rightfully has Bears fans dreaming of the possibilities of their new MIKE linebacker. And perhaps Eberflus feels similarly. The Bears head coach seems to have had Sanborn on his radar for a while as someone who could fill that role.

“If you go all the way back to preseason, we saw what kind of player he was,” Eberflus said. “He’s very instinctual, he makes a lot of plays on the ball, always reads his keys, he’s always on it in that way. So we’re pleased with where he’s going.”

Sanborn has seven more games to continue to prove to the Bears that he’s the guy in the middle of that Bears linebacker group. If he does, it’ll be a big feather in Poles’ cap from a scouting and evaluation perspective.

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Author: Patrick K. Flowers

Patrick is a Staff Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @PatrickKFlowers.