Bears Defense Takes Big Speed Hit Minus Roquan Smith
LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Smith's earlier personal issues and missed game seem long forgotten now, with his season ended.
Bears coach Matt Nagy on Monday confirmed what had been expected since the Bears beat Dallas 31-24 on Thursday, and announced the season was over for the 2018 No. 8 pick in the NFL draft as a result of a torn pectoral muscle.
"Roquan does have a torn pec, so he'll be on IR," Nagy said. "So that's unfortunate for him.
"He's really putting together a good year. But he'll bounce back and that's that."
This much wasn't so certain back when the Bears beat Minnesota 16-6 on Sept. 29, because Smith missed the game for what was called "personal issues."
"He's a guy that's really been growing," Nagy said. "Coach (Mark) DeLeone’s done a really good job at developing these inside linebackers. So I really am excited with our future with him and just got to get him back on track now health-wise."
None of the issues Smith had earlier have been revealed, but since then Smith gradually worked back to become the player who left off last year by making the All-Rookie Team. Actually, he may have gone beyond that when he had career highs of 15 tackles and two sacks against Detroit on Thanksgiving. He has 100 tackles on the year following 121 in a full 2018 season which followed a rookie holdout that lead him to miss training camp and preseason
"I felt really, I mean, you see it on tape he's really moving fast, flying around making tackles," Nagy said. "He's violent. He's always had instincts, that's been his biggest strength and he's violent, he's a violent tackler.
"And I think now as we go here it's just going to be focusing in on having the game slow down, just like it would for a quarterback, slow down a little bit there in the middle of the field."
The hope by the Bears is for Smith to return in spring for offseason work, but it's possible his return could take longer since the injury comes so late in the season.
The big loss for the Bears on defense here is a drop in speed at linebacker. Smith could rush and cover, and his lateral movement was the best by a Bears linebacker since the Brian Urlacher/Lance Briggs era ended.
Defensive end Akiem Hicks, who should make his return from injured reserve and a dislocated elbow this week, realizes the impact not having Smith around can make.
"One thing you can say about Roquan is he will run sideline to sideline," Smith said. "I mean, he just has a pair of wheels on him that just won't stop. That's one of the things that separates him is he can get anywhere you need him to be, whether it's coverage or chasing a running back in the flats. It's pretty impressive.
Kevin Pierre-Louis replaced Smith against the Cowboys after the first drive, and played a strong game with five tackles, one for loss, two passes defensed and a couple of quarterback hits.
"We have the right pieces so I just have to make sure I do my job and the rest of the team is going to have my back," Pierre-Louis said.
Pierre-Louis came to the Bears from the Jets as a free agent and got on the field for 23 snaps in the Minnesota game while Smith was gone.
Against the Packers, the Bears will likely be without Danny Trevathan still because of an elbow injury, so they'll start Pierre-Louis and Nick Kwiatkoski, two backups. Pierre Louis plans to try to improve on the last effort.
"From the game, just clean up some of the small things," Pierre-Louis said. "I was fortunate enough to make a couple plays but definitely left some out there."
Pierre-Louis had ties to Nagy through his stint in Kansas City when both were with the Chiefs, and also other links to Chicago in free agency so it seemed a natural fit.
"There was a lot of positive things here, a lot of connections," Pierre-Louis said. "My old strength coach was here, Nagy, I know a couple people and it just seemed like it was going to be a great fit for myself and where I was headed in my career."
Former Bucs linebacker Devante Bond has been promoted from the practice squad to fill Smith's roster spot. He made 29 tackles over 29 games with six starts in three seasons with Tampa Bay.
T he Bears also made a practice squad move, cutting Dewayne Hendrix from the squad and signing defensive back Xavier Crawford.