Bears’ Nick Morrow in the right place at the right time

The linebacker said the opportunity to play in Matt Eberflus’ defense was a key factor when he signed with the Bears in free agency. But playing next to Roquan Smith also figures to give him a chance to flourish.

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Bears linebacker Nick Morrow (50) said he gained an appreciation for Matt Eberflus’ defenses when Eberflus was defensive coordinator for the Colts.

Bears linebacker Nick Morrow (50) said he gained an appreciation for Matt Eberflus’ defenses when Eberflus was defensive coordinator for the Colts.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

When Roquan Smith was still a hold-in last week, linebacker Nick Morrow was asked if playing next to Smith was one of the reasons he signed with the Bears in free agency. 

“No,” Morrow said. “The biggest reason I wanted to come here is one — opportunity. And I have been following coach [Matt] Eberflus for a while. I enjoyed his scheme and wanted to be a part of it.” 

Fair enough. With his speed/physicality quotient, Morrow is a natural for Eberflus’ defensive scheme — and could end up being another prime example of Eberflus’ knack for putting the right player in the right spot that worked so well with the Colts.

After a breakout season in 2020 with the Raiders — 78 tackles, three sacks and eight tackles for loss in 14 games — Morrow could flourish in a defense he has envisioned himself playing for years. 

Linebackers coach Dave Borgonzi sees that possibility. 

“That’s up to Nick and that’s up to myself and the rest of the system,” Borgonzi said. “Nick can flourish because he’s smart and can run and he plays physical. When you get those three things, any player has a chance to be successful.”

With that said, the day Smith returned from his 24-day hold-in, the 27-year-old Morrow became a better linebacker. The two have yet to play together in a game, but on paper, it looks like a pairing that will click. 

“They’re both cerebral, and they’re both high-level thinkers in football,” Borgonzi said. “And they complement each other well because they both study the game and they help each other. I can see that and I can hear that in the locker room.” 

Though Smith just started participating in 11-on-11 drills in practice Tuesday, the Roquan-Morrow pairing figures to come together quickly. While far from a finished product, the Bears’ defense under Eberflus and defensive coordinator Alan Williams has been a quick study, even with rookies and several newcomers on the field. 

Morrow pointed to the impact of reserve linebacker DeMarquis Gates as an example. After just five practices since being signed Aug. 6, Gates was making plays in the preseason opener against the Chiefs — three tackles, including one for loss, in 26 plays. 

“You see him plug and play and able to make plays, stay within the confines of the scheme and not have any mental errors,” Morrow said, “and that’s kind of encouraging. You see guys that can come in and have success because they believe in the scheme.”

Morrow played in a 4-3 defense with the Raiders. But Smith will be making a transition after playing in a 3-4. Watching film of 4-3 defenses is part of the learning process.

“I don’t have to tell them. They like to do it,” Borgonzi said. “We even watch old Bears film when [Brian] Urlacher and [Lance] Briggs were here. And they enjoy that. They like seeing the former players in the system play — whether it’s Chicago film, Tampa Bay film with [former coach Tony Dungy], Dallas film when Flus [Eberflus] was there, Indianapolis. We always talk about the system and the style of play. They really enjoy doing that.” 

Urlacher and Briggs were one of the best linebacker tandems in Bears history. That’s a high bar for Smith and Morrow, but the chemistry could be similar. 

“I can’t speak to that because I wasn’t in those meeting rooms,” Borgonzi said, “but you can see how they played — it seemed like they were very in-line, and these guys [Smith and Morrow] just started playing tougher. 

“So it would be our goal some day looking back that you can make that comparison. But right now, we’re just trying to get to San Francisco and Cleveland.” 

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