It should have been a short gain.
Bengals running back Joe Mixon split wide in the first quarter Thursday night and ran a five-yard hitch route. He caught the pass and was one-on-one with John Timu, the Bears inside linebacker who started, in part, because first-round pick Roquan Smith remains a holdout.
Once Mixon caught the ball, he and Timu were halfway between the numbers and the sideline. Mixon ran toward the sideline and stiff-armed Timu, who fell to the ground. Adrian Amos ran up to help, but Mixon spun at the 10-yard line and ran in for the game’s first touchdown.
For all the preseason worrying about Smith’s contract, the game marked the first tangible proof that the Bears need him. If Smith is as dominant a sideline-to-sideline tackler as the Bears believe he is — they drafted him No. 8 overall for a reason — he makes the tackle for a 10-yard gain, not a 24-yard touchdown.
Smith and his agents remain locked in a showdown with the Bears over language that dictates whether the team could reclaim some of his contract guarantees for rare on-field disciplinary
The standoff reached Day 26 on Friday — dated to the moment rookies reported to training camp in Bourbonnais — and is now only five days short of Joey Bosa’s 31-day holdout, the longest since the NFL’s current collective-bargaining agreement went into effect in 2011.
“We want to get him back, but we’re still playing here,” Nick Kwiatkoski, the team’s other starting inside linebacker, said in an in-game sideline interview. “Every time you’re on the field, no matter who it is, it’s an
opportunity to play. You have to take
advantage of it.”
The clock is ticking on the Bears’ next preseason game next Saturday. They’ll practice twice in Denver leading up to the game against the Broncos. Even if Smith were to sign before then — and there’s no outward sign that it’s likely — the Bears would hesitate to expose him to opposing blockers if they were unsure of his physical fitness. Not practicing would rule him out for the game.
That would leave the Bears’ fourth game — the all-important dress rehearsal against the Chiefs on Aug. 25 — as the only possibility for Smith to see preseason action. Given their publicly stated bent toward preseason health, the Bears would be fools to play him in the finale and expose him to injury at the hands of a desperate, fourth-string Bills blocker.
Like the contract details the two sides disagree on, those scenarios remain firmly in the hypothetical world.
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