Bears coach Matt Nagy wouldn’t say it outright, but it became clear Thursday that rookie linebacker Roquan Smith, who did very little in practice for the third consecutive day, will not make his NFL debut Saturday against the Chiefs at Soldier Field.
Nagy wouldn’t officially rule out Smith, who has a tight left hamstring, but admitted the chances of the rookie linebacker playing was unrealistic.
“It might be tough,” Nagy said. “I think, realistically, that would be hard. You saw [Thursday] with where he’s at. Again, the biggest thing with him right now is just trying to be smart. I don’t think we want to be foolish in trying to force something back. We just have to outweigh the pros and cons of that.”
Nagy, who has been conservative with exposing his players to injury in the first three preseason games, knows the Bears’ opener on Sept. 9 is a far more important target for Smith than a preseason game known as the league’s “dress-rehearsal.”
Smith missed the first 29 days of the preseason after his representatives and the Bears disagreed over whether the team could try to reclaim his contract guarantees if he was suspended for an on-field action. They reached an agreement last week in time for Smith to fly with the team to Denver. The Bears believed Smith needed to be back last week in order to give himself the best chance to be ready for Week 1.
Since then, Smith has fully participated in one padded practice and one in shells.
When he was first hurt Tuesday, Nagy described the injury as an “hour-by-hour thing.” Now Smith’s next possible practice will come six days after he first felt the tightness.
“Disappointing’s not the word,” Nagy said. “I think for all of us there’s that anticipation in knowing what he can do when he’s full go. Trust me, he wants to be out there more than anybody. But it is what it is.
“Again, it’s the preseason, so we can be a little more, per se, cautious with it. You have to be so careful with those injuries. Because all of a sudden you think you’re good and then you put somebody in and then it compounds it. We want to stay away from the compounded injuries.”
The Bears still want the Georgia alum to enter the regular season with some game experience. Nagy said he’ll consider playing Smith in the fifth preseason game, a time usually set aside for letting third-stringers and others fight for roster spots.
“I think his situation is a little bit different because he hasn’t had the playing time,” Nagy said. “I think what we’ll do is we’ll monitor where he’s at as far as his health, and if we feel like it’s safe to get him reps — which he obviously needs — then we’ll do that. If we think it’s not safe, then we’re not going to do it.”
Smith has to be healthy first, though.
“From what I saw, Roquan’s a pro,” wide receiver Allen Robinson said. “For him, he’s a guy who, from what I saw, is willing to come out here and work, come out here and learn.
“So at the end of the day, I know he’s champing at the bit, but he has to understand, too, just to be patient. We’re going to have him back on the grass and playing and everything like that. It’s just a little bit of patience.”