Bears LB Roquan Smith impressing coaches with command of new defense
Smith has been every bit as advertised to new coach Matt Eberflus and defensive coordinator Alan Williams.
Quarterback Justin Fields is the focal point of the Bears’ offseason and their long-term trajectory, but the team also is counting on linebacker Roquan Smith to continue his ascent and take charge of the new defense.
As coach Matt Eberflus and coordinator Alan Williams transition to a 4-3 scheme with all new terminology and assignments, they need Smith to orchestrate everything once the call is made and the Bears line up against their offense. Smith has been at every offseason practice, dating to the optional minicamp in April, and has put the coaches at ease with his command of the defense.
“He’s a very good player, and we’re gonna rely on him a lot to lead the defense,” Eberflus said after practice Thursday. “He’s done a good job of changing and adjusting his body so far, and he’s got five more weeks [until training camp] to show he’s gonna keep getting better and better in the defense.
“You can see him in practice — he’s starting to call things out because he knows where he fits in the defense, and he’s getting more comfortable with it. And you can see him starting to turn it loose. That’s encouraging to me and Alan.”
Smith, only 25, is one of the most valuable pieces former general manager Ryan Pace left the new administration and has been excellent in his four seasons. He likely will be looking for a contract extension for around five years and $100 million before the season starts, and general manager Ryan Poles has indicated he has every intention of securing Smith’s future.
Smith said in April he “absolutely” plans to be with the Bears long term.
The curious absence of veteran defensive end Robert Quinn lasted all three days of mandatory minicamp, making him the only player to skip. The team is permitted to fine him $95,877.
Eberflus made clear that it was unexcused and that he wanted Quinn, his most accomplished and highest-paid player, on the field this week. But he’ll put that frustration on hold for now.
“I don’t have emotion with that either way,” Eberflus said. “When Robert is here, I’ll talk to him. He and I will sit down and visit man-to-man, and we’ll go from there.”
Quinn set the franchise record with 18œ sacks last season and has three years left on his contract. He said in April that he did not want to be traded.
The Bears hosted Brian Piccolo’s widow and three daughters, as well as other Piccolo family members, at practice. The team paid tribute by having all the players wear jerseys with Piccolo’s No. 41, and Bears chairman George McCaskey wore one, as well.
Piccolo’s friendship with Gale Sayers seemed to resonate with players, even the younger ones who might not be familiar with ‘‘Brian’s Song.’’
“He made it known that it’s OK for whites and Blacks to be together,” rookie wide receiver Velus Jones said. “That’s a big part of history.
“Amazing just seeing his family there at practice. It’s just crazy how even when you’re gone, your legacy lives on with your kids and everything, and I felt like that was a real beautiful thing. So it was amazing to wear the 41.”