Bears notebook: Lack of ‘ball production’ doomed Roquan Smith

The former Bears linebacker was in a class with Shaquille Leonard, who flourished in Matt Eberflus’ defense. But Leonard was responsible for 30 takeaways in four seasons. Smith had two in eight games. “We covet ball production in that position,” Eberflus said.

SHARE Bears notebook: Lack of ‘ball production’ doomed Roquan Smith
Bears linebacker Roquan Smith’s fourth-quarter interception paved the way for the Bears’ game-winning field goal in a 23-20 victory over the Texans on Sunday at Soldier Field.

Roquan Smith was leading the NFL in tackles when he was traded to the Ravens on Monday.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

It was all about the takeaways. 

Roquan Smith wanted to be paid like Colts linebacker Shaquille Leonard, who blossomed into a star in Matt Eberflus’ defense in Indianapolis and signed a five-year, $98.5 million contract in 2021. 

But while Smith was a two-time All-Pro, he didn’t have Leonard’s knack for game-changing plays. Leonard had 30 takeaways in his first four seasons to only six for Smith. 

That’s why Eberflus backed the signing of Leonard but couldn’t endorse a similar deal for Smith, who was traded to the Ravens on Monday for second- and fifth-round picks in 2023 and veteran linebacker A.J. Klein.

“We always base things on numbers and production, and we covet ball production in that position,” Eberflus said. “So that right there is a very important thing that the [weak-side] linebacker needs to do. We loved Roquan. We made him an offer, and they couldn’t find common ground.” 

Whitehair returns

Guard Cody Whitehair was designated to return from injured reserve and practiced Wednesday for the first time since injuring his knee against the Giants in Week 4. 

Whitehair could play against the Dolphins, presumably replacing veteran Michael Schofield, who started in place of Whitehair against the Patriots and Cowboys. It would be the Bears’ fourth different starting lineup on the offensive line in the last four games, but Whitehair is a welcome addition. 

“He’s in a good spot mentally,” Eberflus said. “He’s been working his tail off with the guys in the rehab. His strength numbers are good. His jump numbers are good. . . . We think he is going to be good.” 

The Bears still have other issues on the offensive line. Right tackle Larry Borom (concussion), who missed the Cowboys game, did not practice. And Teven Jenkins (back) was limited. 

Elsewhere on the injury report, safety Eddie Jackson (hip) and cornerback Kyler Gordon (hip) were limited. 

Oh, captain, my captain

Defensive tackle Justin Jones was named a team captain to replace Smith. Jackson was named a captain to replace Robert Quinn last week. Cornerback Jaylon Johnson was named an honorary captain for the game against the Dolphins on Sunday at Soldier Field. 

“I don’t take that [honor] for granted,” said Jones, who signed with the Bears in free agency after four seasons with the Chargers.

“The fact that these guys chose me to lead the team . . . I’m really grateful. I wish it was on different terms, but I definitely appreciate the opportunity. And I’m not going to let these guys down.” 

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