First NFL start a learning experience for Bears rookie Roquan Smith

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Bears rookie linebacker Roquan Smith will make his playoff debut Sunday. | Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

In his first NFL start, Roquan Smith learned a lesson right away.

“The first play of the game,” the Bears rookie inside linebacker said. “I saw the gap. I should have gotten the guy. I missed that. Should have had that.”

Playing the left inside linebacker next to teammate Danny Trevathan, Smith turned inside after the snap and Seahawks running back Chris Carson ran through the space Smith vacated for a nine-yard gain.

“I just didn’t come tight enough,” Smith said. “I went off the diving board too early. I just have to watch it [on film] and learn from it, and not go off too early. He’s a good back. He pressed it and got going. I’ll definitely correct that.”

After playing just eight snaps in the opener against the Packers, Smith played virtually from start to finish against the Seahawks. On a night when the Bears’ defense had six sacks, five quarterback hits, three forced fumbles and an interception return for a touchdown, the rookie from Georgia was a complementary factor in the 24-17 victory at Soldier Field. He had seven tackles — second behind Trevathan’s team-high eight — and one pass break-up.

That’s pretty good for a player who missed most of training camp and the preseason because of a 29-day contract holdout and a tight hamstring he suffered in his third practice with the team.

“It was great to get out there, first start and [all],” Smith said. “I felt I did OK. I still made some mistakes, so those are on my mind. The victory’s great though and I’m enjoying it. But I know I’ve got work to do.”

On a few occasions, Smith was able to show off the speed and physicality that helped make him the eighth overall pick in the draft. Just watching him chase Russell Wilson even in futility, you can see his closing speed will make a difference.

“It was great,” he said with a smile. “I haven’t played more than eight plays since January — the national title game. That was definitely great. Knock a little rust off early in the game. Then once the game went on I felt more comfortable and it was back to ball.”

The big plays figure to come soon enough. First impressions were positive that he’ll make a big impact.

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“I already know,” Trevathan said. “We’re LBs, man. That’s who we believe in. He’s here. He’s going to eat. He’s got the right attitude. He listens. He loves the game of football. He does whatever he needs to do to get better. I’m going to stay on top of him. We’re going to keep humming.”

“Super excited,” defensive end Akiem Hicks said. “He’s fast. He comes downhill. He can hit. He pretty much does everything you can ask from a middle linebacker. I’m happy for him.”

After a quiet first half, Smith had five of his seven tackles in the second half. “I always fly to the ball, so when you fly to the ball, good things happen,” he said. “It just so happened that a lot of that happened in the second half.”

Most importantly, he saw glimpses of the kind of big-play impact he expects to have in the NFL.

“Absolutely,” he said. ‘I just have to work my tail off. I feel if I do that week-in and week-out, things will just get easier. I’ll relax even more and more. I felt fine out there today. But I feel like [with] more time I’ll get more comfortable.”

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