CANTON, Ohio — From the day he signed his rookie contract five weeks before his first training camp with the Bears in 2000, Brian Urlacher began setting a standard that already is difficult for rookie Roquan Smith to match: He was in camp on time. And when it came to negotiations, he called the shots.
“I can’t speak for other people, but I told my agent, ‘I will not miss camp. I’ll be in there. Even if we sign the day before, I will not miss camp at all,’ ” Urlacher said Friday in a news conference before his enshrinement Saturday night in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “ ‘I think it’s detrimental to me learning the defense and [helping] my teammates.’ We made sure we got it done in time.”
Smith, the Bears’ 2018 first-round draft pick, will not get the same head start. His contract holdout extended to 19 days Friday, with the Bears and Smith’s agency, CAA, at an impasse over contract details. He is the only one of the 256 players drafted this year who has not signed a contract. And his holdout is the second-longest since the 2011 collective-bargaining agreement established a slotted salary structure and sharply reduced the number of rookie holdouts. Only Joey Bosa’s 31-day holdout before he signed with the Chargers in 2016 was longer.
But Urlacher made an important distinction when asked about his approach to negotiations and training camp in 2000 compared to Smith’s in 2018. Though he was the ninth overall pick in the draft, Urlacher was a relatively unknown quantity coming into the NFL. He was a late bloomer from a smaller program at New Mexico who was making a transition from college safety to NFL linebacker. Smith started as a true sophomore and junior at Georgia — one of the top programs in the country — with a history of playing big in big games. He’s expected to be a virtual plug-and-play starter with the Bears as a rookie.
“It was important for me [to get to camp on time] because I needed to learn,” Urlacher said. “I knew I was switching positions. That’s not the case with some people.”
That includes Smith, who still figures to make a quick transition to the NFL even if the window to be a Week 1 starter continues to close.
“It’s a business deal. That’s the way it goes,” Urlacher said when asked how damaging Smith’s holdout could be. “Sometimes these things happen. I don’t think it’s his issue. I don’t think it’s the Bears’ decision for this to happen, but . . . let’s see where it goes.”
Asked what advice he would give Smith, Urlacher kept it simple.
“He’s a good player,” he said. “When he gets into camp and figures out what’s going on — he’s smart, he’s played in a good defense for three years at Georgia — he’ll be just fine. Play fast, is what I’d tell him. Play hard and play fast was the saying I was [taught].”
Urlacher’s transition to linebacker in the NFL was bumpy at first. Defensive coordinator Greg Blache put him on the strong side, but Urlacher struggled and was beaten out by second-year pro Rosevelt Colvin. Not until starting middle linebacker Barry Minter suffered an injury in Week 3 did Urlacher find a home.
“The Sam linebacker was not meant for me,” Urlacher said. “Greg Blache and I have spoken about that a few times. He thought that was the best way to get me on the field quicker because mentally it would have been easier for me to handle.
‘‘I didn’t know where I’d end up eventually, and I guess they had a plan for me. I was going to go to the middle eventually — sooner than we thought because Barry got hurt. But it worked out pretty darned good.”
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