Though he never left, Roquan Smith is back.
That’s the way it seemed this week at Halas Hall, after Smith re-emerged as a defensive force with potential for stardom in the Bears’ 17-16 loss to the Chargers.
Following two languid performances in which he looked mysteriously mellow against the Raiders and Saints after being a last-minute scratch against the Vikings on Sept. 29 for personal reasons, Smith looked more like the energetic, instinctive player the Bears need him to be. He had seven tackles, but four of them were for two yards or less, including for no gain. His speed and spark were much more evident all over the field.
“He just played his game,” teammate Danny Trevathan said. “I sensed it all week — he wanted to go out here and make a case. Just be himself. Get back to playing ball. He was being himself — cracking jokes, just being Roquan. That’s what I love about him.”
Smith has been upbeat since he returned from the one-game absence the week after the Vikings game. He reiterated that this week. Asked about his physical and mental state, he said, “I definitely feel like I am where I want to be.”
Smith’s encouraging performance against the Chargers was the first step in the right direction. Seven tackles is modest by his normal standards. But he was much more effective Sunday than against the Raiders in London. He had nine tackles against the Raiders, but five of them were on gains of five, seven, 12, 15 and 16 yards.
“I feel like I was [playing] downhill in the game [against the Chargers],” Smith said. I definitely improved that aspect. That was one of the biggest things.”
Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano didn’t want to get into detail last week about Smith’s diminished impact. But he noticed a difference in Smith’s preparation that week for the Chargers game.
“He had a great week,” Pagano said. “His keys were on. There was no hesitancy in his play. He was sudden. All those guys — when the play presented itself, they pulled the trigger . . . so to speak. So that was encouraging. They played really well.”
Though Pagano lumps Smith in with the rest, there’s little doubt much of the focus is on Roquan. With defensive end Akiem Hicks on injured reserve, the Bears need as many difference-making players as possible and the other Smith wasn’t a candidate to fill that role. This one is. With his ability, Smith’s emotion is infectious.
“Everybody feeds off that. It’s the blood-in-the-water kind of mentality,” Pagano said. “That’s kind of how this group rolls. Anytime you can start fast and gain confidence and have momentum on your side and things are going your way, it’s always a bit easier sledding than [when it’s] the opposite. It was good to see the emotion.”
Trevathan has played well all season, regardless of Smith’s status. But the chemistry between Trevathan and Smith was noticeable against the Chargers — a big reason they were held to 36 rushing yards on 12 carries.
That relationship figures to grow as Smith continues his rejuvenation.
“It’s always been there. It just took awhile for everybody to see it and for him to feel like himself,” Trevathan said. “He went out there and executed. He was out there rocking. That’s all I’m all about — just me and him being on one accord. We gotta play lights out every game now.”
With Smith regaining his form, the Bears’ defense regained its form — probably not a coincidence. They both seem to have responded to the challenge.
“Everyone faces adversity at some point in their life, so we’re just looking at it as adversity,” Smith said. “It’s not going to define us . . . keep pushing and keep getting better and things turned around.”