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Indefatigable LB Roquan Smith is Bears’ workhorse, leads team in tackles

Roquan Smith is coming into his own as a pro at 22 and looks like everything the Bears thought they were getting when they drafted him No. 8 overall in 2018.

Roquan Smith leads the Bears in playing time and has played all but one defensive snap.
AP Photos

Roquan Smith hesitated to admit it, but he came clean after some prodding: Yes, he was exhausted near the end of all 81 snaps at linebacker in Denver.

He was off for at least the next 24 hours before settling back to normal in time for the start of the practice week Wednesday.

“It didn’t take too long,” Smith said. “I think it was just a good night’s rest . . . coming back and getting a couple of hours sleeping in my bed.”

He makes it sound so easy. He has been making everything look easy this season.

Smith played 145 snaps, including special teams, over the first two games and ran all over the field. Fellow linebacker Danny Trevathan is the only one to log more playing time at 146. They combined for 25 of the Bears’ 69 tackles against the Broncos.

Smith leads the Bears with 18 tackles and is making a serious push to fulfill Khalil Mack’s training-camp declaration that he has All-Pro potential.

“He played a little faster in Week 1 than he did last week, but that’s the ebbs and flows of being a second-year player and learning a new defense,” coach Matt Nagy said. “So there’s gonna be some of that, but I love where he’s at. I’m excited that we got him. He’s gonna be a really good one for us.”

If he’s going to keep playing like this — or better — the Bears will have the best linebacking corps in the NFL. Broncos offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello said last week that Smith “might be as good as any inside linebacker in this league.”

The road game Monday against the Redskins shouldn’t be too much of a test for Smith and the Bears’ other run-stoppers. Washington is averaging 37.5 rushing yards per game and 2.5 per carry, ranking 30th in both categories. They have only four rushing first downs.

Adrian Peterson is the Redskins’ top running back with 25 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.

Smith, the No. 8 overall pick last year, looked good as a rookie despite missing training camp and reporting in mid-August. He led the Bears with 122 tackles, including eight for loss, and had five sacks, five pass breakups and an interception.

He did that while still swimming through the usual rookie struggles. Smith is only 22 but seems to be thinking and moving faster in his second season.

“I think it just goes back to being more comfortable,” Smith said. “The more comfortable you are, the better you feel. That’s definitely something that’s been going in the right direction.

“It helps when you know what to expect. So going into the year knowing what to expect, that means a lot to me, and [I’m] ready for it all.”

Growing up playing in the swampy conditions of the South is part of what makes Smith so indefatigable. While the altitude in Denver is unique, no heat or humidity Smith encounters in the NFL compares to the training he endured as a kid in Marshallville, Georgia, or while playing at the University of Georgia.

Training camp in Bourbonnais with its breezy 80-something-degree days, for example, was nothing to him. There’s a forecasted high of 92 in Landover, Maryland, for Monday, though it should be cooler at kickoff.

“When you [train in heat] your entire life, that’s all you know,” Smith said. “I definitely feel like it’s a process over time. You become accustomed to it.”

Now he’s fully accustomed to being a pro, and that maturity shows on the field. He’s calm, quick and reliable, and he’s living up to everything the Bears expected when they drafted him.