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Bears downplay Roquan Smith hamstring tightness; ‘an hour-by-hour thing’

Rookie linebacker Roquan Smith was just saying that learning coordinator Vic Fangio’s system and acclimating himself to the Bears’ defense on the fly after missing 29 days because of a contract holdout was not an impediment to him starting in Week 1 against the Packers.

“I’ll be ready as far as the mental side of things,” Smith said before practice Tuesday. “It’s not that big of a challenge as what it could be.”

The biggest hurdle?

“Just being in football shape,” Smith said. “You work out and do all the running you can, but it’s nothing like football shape.”

Bears rookie linebacker Roquan Smith (58, at the Bears practice at the Broncos facility in Englewood, Colo. last week) is "hour-to-hour" with a tight left hamstring after leaving practice early Tuesday at Halas Hall. | David Zalubowski/AP photo

Bears rookie linebacker Roquan Smith (58, at the Bears practice at the Broncos facility in Englewood, Colo. last week) has missed most of the last three practices because of left hamstring tightness. | David Zalubowski/AP photo

Not long after he said that, Smith, 21, realized just how prescient his words were. The eighth overall pick from Georgia left early in practice with tightness in his left hamstring and did not return.

Though it’s sure to raise red flags everywhere but at Halas Hall, coach Matt Nagy downplayed the extent of the injury, calling it an “hour-by-hour thing.” Nagy said Smith “absolutely” could practice Wednesday and “most likely” could’ve practiced if the Bears were preparing for a regular-season game. Smith was participating in his fourth practice since ending the holdout Aug.  13.

“It’s more precautionary than anything,” Nagy said. “The biggest thing for us when you’re not that far in with him [is] we have to be a little bit careful because we don’t know where he’s at.

‘‘So anytime you [have] something like this, where you just feel even the slightest thing, we want to make sure we’re being smart about it.”

It’s still too early to know how much the hamstring issue alters Smith’s trajectory toward starting the regular-season opener Sept. 9 at Lambeau Field, but obviously it doesn’t help. Smith was hoping to make his Bears debut in the preseason game Saturday against the Chiefs at Soldier Field. That’s still in play, Nagy said.

The instances of one-day hamstring issues that evaporate and never return are rare, though. Even if Smith doesn’t play against the Chiefs, he still could play in Week 1, Nagy said.

“It’ll be close, though,” he said. “He’s at least in the meetings, and he’s out here on the field. But if you’re going to play, it’s going to be a benefit for you to be out there on the field. We’re not going to put anybody out there that doesn’t feel like they’re 100 percent mentally and physically. It’s going to be close for sure, without a doubt.”

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Earlier Tuesday, Smith sounded like he was on track to prepare to start the opener whether or not he played against the Chiefs — pending him being in “football shape.”

“I feel very comfortable in myself and my abilities, so whenever Coach feels it’s right for me to get out there, then it’ll be that,” Smith said.

Looking and sounding noticeably more comfortable at the podium in the Halas Hall interview room than he was off the practice field last week after the end of his holdout, Smith did not seem overwhelmed or even fazed by the task of getting acclimated to Fangio’s defense after missing the first three weeks of training camp and three preseason games.

“It’s not that bad because we ran a very complex defense at Georgia — it took me, like, a year to get it,” Smith said. “But actually having concepts now . . . because before getting to Georgia I didn’t know concepts like that. [This] just falls with the concepts.”

Nagy got right to the point when asked what he needs to see from Smith to know that he’s ready for Week 1.

“On the field; that’s the first part, right?” Nagy said. “And the next part is just him feeling comfortable, making sure he’s making the right calls and he’s not making mental mistakes.”