Bears

Roquan Smith’s progress is another reason to believe in Bears’ defense

The confusion seemed obvious on film. Inside linebackers Roquan Smith and Nick Kwiatkoski pointed too much, while outside linebacker Aaron Lynch and others looked back at them.

It happened in the last minute of the Bears’ 24-17 victory Monday night against the Seahawks. Inside linebacker Danny Trevathan was removed from the game, leaving Smith partly in charge of the defense in the waning moments of his first career start.

“We started playing a coverage at the end of the game [that] when we put it in and worked on it the most, [Smith] wasn’t there in training camp,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Thursday.

Quarterback Russell Wilson completed three passes during that confusion, starting with a 19-yard throw to wide receiver Jaron Brown over a leaping Smith and ending with a two-yard score to tight end Will Dissly. The touchdown throw went right behind Smith, who left to cover running back C.J. Prosise. Smith and Kwiatkoski consulted each other after the play.

Roquan Smith made his NFL debut against the Packers. | Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Roquan Smith made his NFL debut against the Packers. | Stacy Revere/Getty Images

“Smith didn’t execute [the coverage] like we wanted him to at the end of the game there, which allowed some of those completions,” Fangio said. “That’s more on me than him because I should’ve realized that he wasn’t there when we worked on it and made sure he was honed up on it.”

The end of the game, though, turned into a teaching moment the Bears could afford because they were ahead by two touchdowns.

Smith’s development requires such moments, but, overall, his first start was a good one. He has a solid performance to build on against the Cardinals and running back David Johnson at State Farm Stadium on Sunday.

“I definitely feel like there’s a comfort level,” Smith said. “Obviously, there are still some mistakes here and there. But I feel like that’s just part of the game. You try to aim for perfection, even though perfection never really happens. I felt great in the defense, though.”

Smith’s potential for greatness is another reason the Bears’ defense can be dominant this season and beyond.

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Before outside linebacker Khalil Mack arrived, Smith was supposed to change the complexion of Fangio’s defense with his speed, instincts and powerful tackling. As the eighth overall pick, Smith was the difference-maker the defense needed. Now Smith can benefit from Mack’s presence and vice versa. Together, they can make the Bears’ defense elite.

“I really liked the way [Smith] played [against the Seahawks],” Fangio said. “He had some really nice plays. Good tackler. Obviously, he can run, and we’re thrilled to have him.”

Fangio pointed out that Smith had “a couple of missed tackles we didn’t like,” which he said were a result of Smith missing training camp.

On the Seahawks’ first play, he missed running back Chris Carson on an inside run. Carson ran through Smith’s arms and gained nine yards, but it still was a hole Smith filled almost instantly.

“I missed, like, two tackles or so,” Smith said. “I just have to grow from that and try to eliminate that to zero.”

Similar to Mack, Smith didn’t appear out of shape or out of sorts after missing camp and the preseason following his own contract dispute and tweaked hamstring.

After being on the field for eight snaps in Week 1 against the Packers, Smith played 59 against the Seahawks. It was Smith’s first full game since playing for the national championship with Georgia against Alabama on Jan. 8.

“I felt like my body was prepared for it,” said Smith, who made seven tackles, including strong ones on Prosise and tight end Nick Vannett.

“It wasn’t like I was going in and thinking and second-guessing myself. I have full confidence in myself.”