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Roquan Smith Arrives at        a Higher Level of Play

Occasional stellar play has been replaced by a consistently high level during Roquan Smith's third season in the NFL.

Coaches and Bears teammates have felt it, and Roquan Smith now isn't afraid to say it.

He has arrived, and considering it's his third year and the Bears will next spring decide on his fifth-year option, it's definitely a timely arrival.

"I definitely feel like I'm playing a pretty solid year right now, coming into my own in a sense, but I feel like there's also room for improvement, things that I can do better or see even faster," Smith said.

Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano was asked Thursday by media about Smith's days of a few good games and before reverting back to rookie-style mistakes.

"Yeah, I think that's over," Pagano said. "I think this is just now just an ascending player that is going to do nothing but get better and grow mentally. He's going to keep sharpening his sword every single day that he walks in this building.

"With the level of play comes confidence and that's at a high level right now. His confidence is off the charts. I just think you're going to see a guy continue to progress and play really, really well."

Smith is second in the NFL with solo tackles at 60 He is tied for the most tackles in the NFL over the last three games with 26 and has made the most run stops over this stretch. Considering the Bears played the Rams, Saints and Titans, it's impressive.

His ascent actually came before that. He's had 62 of his 82 total tackles since Week 4, averaging 10.3 a game for that period.

His season total of 12 tackles for loss is second best in the league and he's tied for fourth overall in tackles with 82. It's been a big reason the Bears have started to round into form against the run as they prepare to take on NFL rushing leader Dalvin Cook.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer in his assessment of the Bears said they have five Pro Bowl players on defense, and included Smith in that bunch.

This comes in a year when Smith started out saying he was playing with a chip on his shoulder. Yet, his source of motivation is not some outside analysis. It comes from within.

"I would feel like it's me, I would feel like it's just me within myself being motiviated, motivated by myself first and foremost and then I feel like if I'm doing my best job that I can possibly do then I feel like that will put the team in the best possible situation," Smith said.

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Pro Football Focus has never been a big Smith proponent but this year has recognized his pass coverage improvement with an outstanding 80.8 score.

The statistics and production on the field are not the only way Smith improved.

"Especially in practice and walkthroughs, he's overcommunicating, just taking that middle linebacker role on heavy, you know, being the anchor of a defense," safety Eddie Jackson said. "He's taking that on a lot better this year, like I said, (the) leadership role. Going out there, being a leader, communicating, talking and things."

It's not surprising it took Smith until his third season to entirely justify his selection with the eighth pick of the 2018 draft. After all, he is only 23 years old. He's had 2 1/2 seasons of taking in how to play the position while watching Danny Trevathan.

"I love playing next to the guy and excited that he's my teammate," Smith said.

The natural advancement from repetitions has brought Smith as far as anything else, but he's had help. It definitely slowed his approach when he missed three games with a torn pectoral muscle last year.

"Rookie year you did not really know what to look at when you're looking at film as opposed to now, knowing what you should have did in certain situation, saying, 'Ok if I get this next time,' just knowing what I can clean up as opposed to rookie year, wouldn’t necessarily know and would depend on a lot more coaching," Smith sad.

The film tells the tale to Jackson.

"Roquan's always been a guy, you know, if you look at every film since he's gotten here, he's always going to be on the tackle, or if not making the tackle, a step away from making it," Jackson said. "That's what we love about him, and that's what he does best.

"He's going to rally to the ball. He has one speed all the time."

Now, its apparent he's at a stage in development when he can keep the accelerator down.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven