A look at how the Bears came to covet LB Roquan Smith in the NFL draft

SHARE A look at how the Bears came to covet LB Roquan Smith in the NFL draft

Roquan Smith is presented with his Bears jersey by Roger Goodell. | AP

The Bears officially introduced linebacker Roquan Smith, who was drafted with the eighth overall selection, at Halas Hall on Friday.

Here’s a look at how the Bears came to covet Smith, who was by far one of the top players on their draft board.

Scouting Smith

Pace said that the Bears’ scouts were “pounding the table” for Smith since midseason, specifically highlighting the input of Southeast area scout Sam Summerville and national scout Francis Saint-Paul.

“They have loved this guy from the get-go,” Pace said.

Pace wasn’t kidding, either. He specifically mentioned Smith’s play in Georgia’s 20-19 win against Notre Dame in South Bend during the second week of the college season.

Smith made seven tackles, including five solo and one for loss, and had two quarterback hurries in that victory.

“He’s just so explosive,” Pace said. “Every game you watch, this guy’s flying around, making plays.”

College scouting director Mark Sadowski also was very high on Smith. Similar to Summerville and Saint-Paul, Sadowski started talking about him early on.

“During the season, we’re at a Bears game in our booth, and I remember Sadowski talking about him then,” Pace said. “His name’s come up a ton, and then once you meet him, it just kind of cements it for you.”

Pace said the information that the Bears’ scouts gathered on Smith at Georgia and from talking to past teammates came back with “A-plus” grades. Later on, those grades matched what the Bears felt in more personal settings with Smith.

“This guy checks all the boxes,” Pace said.

Smith, who majored in economics, played an instrumental role in Georgia’s rise last season, which ended with a 26-23 overtime loss to Alabama in the national championship.

“The first thing that comes to mind is his instincts, his play speed and his physicality,” Pace said. “I mean, he hits with impact.”

Getting to know Smith

The Bears interviewed Smith at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, but also hosted him for a visit in Lake Forest. It included having dinner with Pace, coach Matt Nagy and director of player personnel Josh Lucas.

“We spent a lot of time with him,” Pace said.

Similar to quarterback Mitch Trubisky, it was important for the Bears’ brass to get a feel for Smith as a person.

“You’re talking about a position that can kind of quarterback the defense,” Pace said. “Roquan not is only a great player, but he has outstanding intangibles. That’s a huge strength of his, and it was a very attractive quality for us.”

Smith stayed overnight after dinner and spent the following day with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio at Halas Hall, going through what Pace described as “the football IQ part.”

Smith won over Fangio and the Bears, and vice versa. Smith said that Georgia coach Kirby Smart was complimentary of Fangio.

“I really enjoyed my visit,” Smith said.

That included seeing the Bears’ modernization plans for Halas Hall.

“I loved what they’re doing up at the facility now, renovating everything like that,” he said. “I’m definitely excited to get up and get to work in Chicago.”

Smith didn’t need to be briefed on what it means to be a linebacker for the Bears, either.

“From way back with Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary, Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher, all of those types of guys, it’s insane,” he said. “I’m excited.”

Projecting Smith

The Bears view Smith, the 2017 Butkus Award winner as the best college linebacker, as a modern-day linebacker. He’s physically capable of competing in a quarterback-friendly league, where running backs catch as many passes as wide receivers and tight ends resemble basketball players.

“In today’s NFL, the linebackers are becoming more and more of this,” Pace said. “Sometimes you might sacrifice a little of size to gain a lot of athleticism and a lot of speed. Roquan definitely has that.”

Pace described Smith’s size (6-1, 236 pounds) as “fine for us.”

“We don’t want to sacrifice any of that speed that he has,” he said.

Smith literally was all over the field at Georgia, making 252 tackles over three seasons. He also improved with every year. In his final season, Smith had 137 tackles, including 14 for losses, and six 1/2 sacks.

Smith’s timing, tenacity and speed as a blitzer stood out to the Bears and Fangio, who likes to feature his inside linebackers in various designed pressures. In Georgia’s reviews, Smith added 20 quarterback pressures in 2017.

“He’s got such great burst,” Pace said. “He’s such a sudden, twitchy player. He times his blitz very well, and he’s got outstanding burst. He can just uncoil when he hits. So when he strikes a guy, it’s very impactful. He’s built that way.”

But being a modern linebacker involves excelling in pass coverage, too.

Smith didn’t record an interception in college, but he did break up three passes, force three fumbles and recover three fumbles.

“You can see him in coverage because he has the speed to run with tight ends or backs out of the field,” Pace said. “He has change of direction to mirror routes. Those traits are definitely there for him. He also has the awareness and instincts in coverage to feel things around him.”

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