The Bears threw a pass into the flat Wednesday, an unremarkable play they’ll repeat hundreds of times between now and the start of the season roughly three months and three weeks away.
Roquan Smith, in only his second organized-team-activity practice, hadn’t seen the starters do it often. He acted as though he had.
“He just came out like a rocket and made a play,” coach Matt Nagy said. “And that made me chuckle a little bit because that’s what I saw on tape.”
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Nagy almost stumbled upon Smith’s college nickname, “The Montezuma Missile,” an ode to his hometown. To survive the red glare of the NFC North’s passing attacks — the Vikings’ Kirk Cousins, on the heels of the largest guaranteed contract in NFL history, might be the third-best quarterback in a division that features Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford — the Bears need more rockets.
“I feel like we just needed to make some more plays, big-time plays — turnovers, getting in there and getting [tackles for loss], sacking the quarterback,” fellow inside linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “Getting some dances out there, something. Just having fun, man. Making more plays and just being loud and more disruptive.”
They doubled their takeaway total last year, up to 22, after logging 11 more fumble recoveries than in 2016. That was good for a three-way tie for 13th place in takeaways — but, Trevathan said, not good enough.
The veteran’s health could help them raise that figure. A year ago, Trevathan still was recovering from a potentially career-threatening ruptured patellar tendon in his right knee.
“I feel like I’m right where I need to be, health-wise, body-wise, mindset,” said Trevathan, who has started only 20 of a possible 32 games since joining the Bears from the Super Bowl-champion Broncos. “I’ve got the right group, and we’ve got the right people out here.”
If the No. 8 overall pick is as dynamic as the Bears hope, perhaps he’ll make Trevathan redundant in 2019, the year before his contract expires. For this season, at least, the team envisions the two as a perfect pairing, with Trevathan’s leadership and Smith’s explosion fulfilling the major job requirements of a modern NFL defense: to play in space against increasingly spread-out offenses.
“We got the right guy to fit our defense,” Trevathan said of Smith.
Nick Kwiatkoski, who was penciled in as a starter before the draft, took Smith’s selection in stride. While the Bears haven’t anointed the rookie as the starter yet, it’s likely a matter of time. Kwiatkoski, though, said he hasn’t been asked to move to edge rusher, where the Bears are perilously thin.
“We’re trying to get better as a team,” Kwiatkoski said. “That’s how it is, what the draft’s for. It is what it is. Things haven’t changed a bit.”
Smith is trying to lean on Trevathan and Kwiatkoski for help.
“Wow, man, just seeing those guys out here and being teammates with those guys — all their experience — and just learn new things from them,” Smith said. “Because they know a lot. They’ve been around the block a few times.”
Nagy cited Trevathan’s demeanor — the veteran prides himself on avoiding mental errors like an oncoming blocker — as one reason he’ll be a good mentor for Smith.
Trevathan took note of his work ethic.
“He’s just out here trying to get better,” Trevathan said. “That’s what I like about him. He’s calling the call sheets out. He’s learning the plays. That’s what you want in him. You want him to come out here and be humble. You want him to work hard. I see that in his eyes, coming out here.
“It’s a lot of lights on him. It’s a lot of attention on him. But he’s finding himself out here, coming out here and trying to make some plays.”