After difficult 2019 season, Bears linebacker Roquan Smith ‘in a great place’

With a chip on his shoulder, Smith is determined to “get back to who I really am” and have the breakout season many are anticipating.

SHARE After difficult 2019 season, Bears linebacker Roquan Smith ‘in a great place’
Bears linebacker Roquan Smith said he “feels 100 percent” healthy after missing the final three games of last season with a torn pectoral muscle.

Bears linebacker Roquan Smith said he “feels 100 percent” healthy after missing the final three games of last season with a torn pectoral muscle.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Despite an uneven second NFL season in which he missed one game for personal reasons and the last three with a torn pectoral muscle, linebacker Roquan Smith’s career arc is pretty well-defined.

When he has been right, he has looked like a star who is just getting started — with great anticipation that 2020 will be a breakout season.

And he’s ready to go. He’s healthy after having surgery in December and motivated, presumably by criticism after the personal issue that had him in a midseason funk.

‘‘First and foremost, it’s just about me,’’ Smith said. ‘‘I’ve got a huge chip on my shoulder. [I’m] just really excited. I don’t want much hype going into this year because I know my mindset and what I plan to do this upcoming season.

‘‘[If] I stay healthy, I definitely feel like it’s going to be my best year to date and I feel like I’m gonna do some things. A lot of people counted me out. So I’m gonna get back to who I really am and do pretty much everything the way I want to do [it] and make myself the best possible player I can.’’

Smith has been a bit of a closed book since joining the Bears. He’s all business in media interviews, keeping delicate matters private and giving no indication of what makes him tick. But suffice it to say that his two seasons in the NFL have been a learning experience.

‘‘I feel like I learned a lot of things,’’ Smith said. ‘‘First and foremost, just learning people, just knowing who is with you and who is not with you. [There] was some adversity. We all face that at certain points, the highs and lows in life. So, yeah, [2019] wasn’t my best season.’’

It will be intriguing to see whether he can ‘‘get back to who I really am’’ because most of us don’t know that Roquan Smith yet. He pretty much keeps to himself. His football activity during the COVID-19 quarantine has ‘‘been pretty much solitary workouts,’’ he said. Even coach Matt Nagy, when asked about Smith on Tuesday, acknowledged: ‘‘There are not a whole lot of conversations with him.’’

But even with limited interactions, Nagy said he has a good feel for Smith’s maturity.

‘‘The conversations I’ve had with him have been great,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘Shoot, he’s one of the guys that on my birthday sent me a ‘Happy birthday’ text. Other than that, he’s in a good place. All the Zoom meetings, it’s good. I really like where he’s at. He’s growing. I think he’s going to have a good 2020.”

Smith echoed that sentiment, acknowledging he has a lot on the line in his third season, which often is a springboard to a long-term contract.

‘‘I definitely feel like I’m in a great place right now,’’ Smith said. ‘‘Training very hard. I feel like I have a lot that I have to live up to myself, my personal goals and team goals, so I’m definitely just trying to make this year my best year possible. . . . I know Year 3 is a huge year for myself and my career, so I’ve got to make everything worth it and put it all on the line for myself, my teammates and my family.’’

Smith said he’s physically ready for training camp.

‘‘I feel like I’m 100%, and I’m excited for where I’m at right now,’’ he said. ‘‘I can pretty much do [anything] and everything.’’

And despite the chip on his shoulder, he insisted his motivation comes from within. It’s his time, and he seems to know it.

‘‘If I’m completely honest, it’s just more so me doing everything to the best of my ability and everything else will take care of itself — Pro Bowl, all those things,’’ Smith said. ‘‘That’s my main thing — playing to my standard, not letting up and just being relentless. Just putting everything on me.’’

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