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With holdout over, Roquan Smith, Bears take aim at opener vs. Packers

Bears first-round pick Roquan Smith speaks to the media after practice at the Chicago Bears practice facility in Lake Forest, Illinois, on Tuesday. Tim Boyle/For the Sun-Times

Holdout? What holdout?

With no regrets, no apologies and no hard feelings, Roquan Smith, Matt Nagy and the Bears quickly moved on after ending a 29-day impasse that cost the rookie linebacker from Georgia 16 practices and two preseason games.

“That’s just the business side of things,” Smith said. “It is what it is. And I’m just happy to be here now.”

With the dust settling from the Bears’ first rookie holdout since Cedric Benson missed 36 days of training camp and the preseason in 2005, Nagy was ready to move on as well, confident there will be no lingering ill effects.

“I don’t think so,” Nagy said. “It’s hard because both sides are trying to protect each other. I think we’re all big boys in this thing, and we understand what goes on, and the ultimate ending right now is that he’s here. We understand that he’s got a lot of work to catch up on. He knows that. And now we go do it.”

With Smith participating in a morning practice at Halas Hall, Tuesday was a day to move on, look ahead, accentuate the positive and hope for the best.

Because the Bears played in the Hall of Fame Game, he still has 26 days and at least two preseason games to prepare for the Bears’ regular-season opener Sept. 9 against the Packers at Lambeau Field.

And Nagy said that might be enough.

“We feel like it’s realistic,” Nagy said. “But he’s got to put in the work, as do all the players. . . . And he knows that; it’s been [made] loud and clear. So he’ll come in and work hard, and the rest is on him.”

The fallout from his holdout could be minimal or even nonexistent if Smith learns quickly and stays healthy. In 2005, Benson practiced for the first time 12 days before the season opener and still played in the game. It wasn’t much, and he wasn’t very good — he gained 10 yards on three carries in the fourth quarter. But with two more weeks than Benson had, Smith figures to be in much better shape to be a factor in Week 1 if there are no hiccups.

Smith, the eighth overall pick, made no promises.

“You never really know,” he said. “All I can do is just give my best every day and prepare myself the best way I know how.”


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Nagy said Smith could play Saturday in the Bears’ preseason game against the Broncos in Denver — a decision that could be an interesting indicator. The trick for Nagy and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is to get Smith acclimated without overdoing it.

“Rep-wise, you put him in for a few, maybe take him out, put him back in and then you have to gauge how he’s handling it,” Nagy said. “Is he out of shape with his breath? Are his legs tired? He’s gonna have fresh legs. He’s gonna look a little faster than everybody else. So once you see where he’s at, then you can either put him in more or pull back.”

Nagy and Fangio won’t rush Smith, but they don’t plan to spoon-feed him, either. At his inside-linebacker position, Smith makes the defensive calls. And he’ll be responsible for that from the beginning, which Nagy acknowledged will be a challenge.

“I think we’ll still ask him to do that because you’ve got to test the waters a little bit and see what he can and can’t do,” Nagy said.

“If you take too many baby steps and you don’t test him enough, then you don’t know what his limit is. So I think you go ahead, and you throw stuff at him.

‘‘Right now, we have to make sure physically you don’t overdo it. Mentally, he’s fine. We can pull back on that, but physically we can’t overdo it.”