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No Questioning Nicholas Morrow's Speed

Bears linebacker adapts to a new situation and tackling style but familiarity with the scheme and his speed are why coaches think he can team with Roquan Smith to provide a dangerous linebacker tandem.

Bears linebacker Nicholas Morrow had to laugh when asked if he's faster than teammate Roquan Smith.

"We'll see," he said.

Those who will see up close will be the opposing offenses, as they must contend with two linebackers who run like safeties. 

You might call them "running mates."

"I always joke with these guys, I pull up their 40 times when they came out of college," linebackers coach Dave Borgonzi said. "Roquan ran a 4.51 and Nick ran a 4.52, so they’re both fast. I would say we have some of the fastest linebackers in the NFL, and that's how I want them to play. That's their timed speed, and that's what we expect to see on the field.

"When they're out there, they're going to be fast, we're going to play fast and we want to be able to run sideline to sideline."

Pairing two linebackers who can run is exactly what the cover-2 defensive style of coach Matt Eberflus requires. It's also what Morrow knows well after playing in a similar scheme with the Raiders. 

However, not everything is the same, and he'll need to adjust.

What matters greatly to the Bearoit's one of the few changes he's trying to pick up.

"You know, being with the coaches and talking to them about different styles of tackling, last year talked about strike zone, a profile tackle," Morrow said. "This year, we talk about hamstring tackles. That's a little bit different. It's a little bit lower strike zone. But I'm always welcome to everything, and trying to learn how to do it better."

It seems strange players are being called on to change their style already when a key point of emphasis for this coaching staff was adapting the playing style to the talent.

Beyond this, it's been either easier, familiar or fun for Morrow, who spent last year on injured reserve due to a preseason ankle injury and hasn't played since the final game of 2020.

"Some of the spy/drop stuff is fun, like getting to your landmark and having eyes on the quarterback," Morrow said. "But a lot of what we've done so far I've done before. So, the familiarity, I think that's another thing that I like.

"Then, playing next to Ro, he has a really good understanding of what the offense is doing, so just feeding off him, too."

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Morrow can see the tandem working well, like for Smith when he was playing alongside a younger, healthier Danny Trevathan in 2018. Or more appropriately because of the new schemme, it would be like Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs if executed according to plan.

"One, he's fast," Morrow said of Smith. "Then, two, his pre-snap reads are really good, so being able to anticipate pre-snap is helpful. Then, he always communicates to me to kinda get me going, so it's been helpful."

Morrow is actually calling the plays on defense despite being the new guy. Smith is at weakside and Morrow in the middle, so it makes sense.

"It's been cool, but the biggest thing is understanding your wind, because you've got to be in shape to do it," Smith said. "You've got to run downfield, then you've got to run back and give the calls. So, it’s been cool, but I don't think it's been anything new. It's nothing I haven't done before."

Because the two are similar in speed, it's possible they could be interchangeable position-wise.

"I think some of it maybe in third down you'll see a little more position specific things but in the early downs I don't think it really matters that much," Morrow said.

The 4-3 requires a third linebacker but the Bears will be in two-linebacker situations more often. They'll have to find their third for the strong side from a group less accomplished than Morrow. Matthew Adams has filled this role most in OTAs.

"Bring in Matt Adams from Indianapolis who was with us for a few years, then you have a guy like Joe Thomas who has been in this system, who is a veteran eight years in the league," Borgonzi said. "Then you have a guy like Caleb Johnson who was here and is a young, ascending player.

"Noah Dawkins who we brought in. He's a guy that is new to the system but he can run. Then the rookies we brought in. The undrafted free agents: Jack Sanborn from Wisconsin, C.J. Avery from Louisville, Christian (Albright) from Ball State."

Morrow, himself, has never started a full season and has started just 29 of the 62 games he has played. He's approaching the year the same way as always, even if the surroundings and the responsibilities are greater.

"It's nothing different, you never change your approach," he said. "You always approach it the same way.

"Like in 2020, I went into that year playing Sam (strong side) and I finished that year playing Mike (middle)."

As long as the speed is there, the fit will be there.

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