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Roquan Smith in great shape for ‘phenomenal’ 2020 season

The third-year linebacker took advantage of rehab workouts after surgery to repair a torn chest muscle suffered last season.

Linebacker Roquan Smith (58) led the Bears in tackles with 100 last season (65 solo) despite playing in only 12 games (and playing only a quarter against the Cowboys on Dec. 5 because of an injury).
Linebacker Roquan Smith (58) led the Bears in tackles with 100 last season (65 solo) despite playing in only 12 games (and playing only a quarter against the Cowboys on Dec. 5 because of an injury).
Nam Y. Huh/AP

‘‘He’s in great shape’’ is one of the biggest clichés — and often the most dubious — of an NFL training camp. But when it’s said about Bears linebacker Roquan Smith, a player who by all other indications is ready to blossom into a star, there might be something to it.

Smith, 23, made the most of his rehabilitation from surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle that forced him to miss the final three games last season. He’s not only healthy, but he has improved physically.

‘‘His physical progression, I’m really excited about where he is,’’ inside linebackers coach Mark DeLeone said. ‘‘Physically and mentally, I think he’s in a great spot. He’s cut up. He’s put on some lean body mass — but good weight. He looks the part right now. He’s in great shape. He’s running really well.’’

DeLeone attributed that to Smith’s post-surgery workouts. Smith was one of the few players allowed into Halas Hall to do his rehab workouts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘‘He just killed that rehab this offseason,’’ DeLeone said. ‘‘He had an opportunity to really work that rehab and work it hard. He could have gone two ways, and he went the right way.’’

Though it was connected to the rehab, his physical upgrade was a conscious effort, Smith said.

‘‘I feel like the better shape you’re in, the better player you’ll be,’’ Smith said. ‘‘So I was thinking coming into the season, wanting this to be my best year to [date] . . . I’m going to do whatever it takes to make sure that happens, regardless of how much work I have to put in.’’

Smith, the eighth overall pick of the 2018 draft, has faced obstacles in each of his first two seasons with the Bears: a holdout as a rookie and an undisclosed personal issue and the injury last season.

This year, the COVID-19 quarantine restrictions have put a crimp in everybody’s offseason and training camp. But that hasn’t lessened the anticipation that Smith — after showing glimpses of stardom in his first two seasons — will have a breakout season in Year 3.

‘‘He’s locked in,’’ defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. ‘‘He’s engaged. Going through the meetings to this point, the installs, had a couple of walkthroughs with those guys — he’s on top of it. He hasn’t skipped a beat.

‘‘I just think we’ve seen Pro Bowl-caliber play. Now it’s gotta be consistent. Do it week in and week out and stay consistent. Coming into Year 3, he’s going to have a phenomenal year.’’

Smith’s versatility — his sideline-to-sideline speed, ability to rush the passer and be effective in coverage well down the field — was a big selling point when he was drafted. Pagano said he is anticipating a big improvement this season in the coverage part of Smith’s game and in his overall understanding of his position.

In that regard, Pagano said the extensive Zoom meetings during the quarantine — while a poor substitute for on-field practices in minicamps and OTAs — were of particular benefit to a player such as Smith.

‘‘He has a great understanding of the call — why we’re calling it, when we’re going to call it, what’s the situation,’’ Pagano said. ‘‘And then, ‘What’s my job?’ He’s got his job down, but he also understands where his help is and how he can play his leverage better.’’

And Pagano, like DeLeone, can’t help but mention Smith’s physical upgrade.

‘‘He’s in probably the best shape of his life,’’ Pagano said. ‘‘He’s changed his body. He’s really, really lean. Looks really good. He’s moving around good. His focus and his mindset is off the charts. We’ve got no pads on yet, but we love where he’s at right now.’’