Can Bears rookie Roquan Smith follow — and avoid — Joey Bosa’s footsteps?
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Joey Bosa was emphatic that conditioning wouldn’t be an issue after his 31-day holdout in 2016.
“I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in my life,” Bosa declared at the press conference when he signed with the Chargers two years ago.
On his first day back, he suffered a hamstring injury that cost him four games.
Bosa is the ultimate small sample — he’s the only rookie to hold out as long as Bears linebacker Roquan Smith in the last eight years — but an interesting case nonetheless as Smith prepares to catch up after missing four weeks of training camp, 16 practices and two preseason games.
Bosa wasn’t in as good of shape as he thought. But once he returned from the hamstring injury, he was an immediate hit — two sacks in his first NFL game and 10½ sacks in 12 games to win the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award.
Therein lies the challenge for Smith as he returns this week after signing his rookie contract — avoiding an injury as he tries to be patient and play catch-up at the same time. There’s always a risk of overdoing it.
“I think there could be for sure,” coach Matt Nagy acknowledged, “and that’s our job as coaches and as a training staff to make sure that we limit that so that we don’t overdo it and he does too much, too fast and then you lose him for a long time.”
When asked about his physical conditioning, Smith wasn’t as adamant as Bosa was two years ago, but still considered himself in football shape.
“I would like to say I am,” he said. “I was training pretty hard in Athens back at school.”
He appeared to get through his first practice in good shape, so he’s already a step ahead of Bosa. But there’s still a long way to go.
2. Smith’s 29-day holdout is the second longest since Neal Anderson’s 30-day holdout in 1986 — behind Cedric Benson’s 36-day holdout in 2005.
Prior to Smith, there have been five rookie holdouts in the post-Mike Ditka era: Benson, David Terrell in 2001 (nine days); Cade McNown in 2000 (11 days); Curtis Enis in 1999 (25 days); and Rashaan Salaam in 1995 (16 days). They each had two things in common: They never saw the benefits they held out for, and each was a bust as a Bear, though Salaam at least rushed for 1,074 yards and 10 touchdowns as a rookie before his career went awry.
3. Maybe that’s a coincidence, maybe it’s not. All five previous holdouts were offensive players. Though Smith is a defensive player, Nagy noted that as a play-caller, his learning curve is more difficult. Then again, Smith is joining a top-10 defense and will be surrounded by players familiar with Vic Fangio’s system. So relative to McNown, Enis and others, he’s theoretically in a more comfortable position.
4. For the record, the last Bears defensive players to hold out were cornerback Donnell Woolford (20 days) and defensive end Trace Armstrong (22 days) in 1989.
Woolford, the 11th overall pick, became a solid nine-year starter, including 11 games as a rookie. He earned a Pro Bowl berth in 1993. Armstrong, the 12th overall pick, became a six-year starter, including 14 as a rookie. He had 10 sacks in 1990 and 11.5 in 1993.
5. The biggest disappointment Tuesday was general manager Ryan Pace declining to speak to reporters on the day of Smith’s holdout. It’s the second-longest holdout in the eight-year history of the 2011 collective bargaining agreement. Pace has not spoken to reporters since July 19, the day before training camp opened.
Pace is by far the most reluctant GM in town and surely one of the most reluctant in the NFL — a strange method of operating considering the Bears are 14-34 in his three seasons. Even if we don’t get all the details about the holdout, there are still questions that could and should be answered.
Pace made a point of respecting Smith and his agency in the process. Once it was over, he should have given Bears fans and the local media the same respect. The holdout wasn’t our fault.
6. If you believe the NFL is an evil cabal led by a heartless, out-of-touch commissioner beholden to the owners whose only redeeming quality is that he’s not Gary Bettman — a reputation the NFL and Roger Goodell have earned — it’s almost a reflex action to take the player’s side in Smith’s holdout. But his agency, CAA, deserves its share, perhaps 50.1 percent of it. The protections Smith received are unlikely to have come into play. The Bears didn’t touch Danny Trevathan’s guaranteed money after his one-game suspension last year.
And while the Bears were one of only two teams that had rookies hold out this year, CAA is the only agency that had one. In fact, there have been four rookie holdouts in the last five years in the NFL and each one has been a CAA client. If it’s such a worthwhile fight, why is CAA the only agency fighting it?
7. The Bears practiced Tuesday on two new outdoor fields behind the Walter Payton Center, the team’s indoor facility on their 38-acre site at Conway Park. It gives the team “a little tranquility back here,” Nagy said. It also gives the Bears five practice fields on site, which has fueled speculation that they eventually will move their training camp to Halas Hall. In 2013, the Bears signed a nine-year extension under GM Phil Emery — technically a series of nine one-year deals — to stay at Olivet Nazarene through 2022.
8. Smith predictably had no regrets about his holdout. Hardly anyone has them. But one who did was Curtis Enis, whose 36-day holdout as the fifth overall pick in 1998 was disastrous from start to finish.
A year later, during Cade McNown’s holdout in 1999, Enis expressed his regret.
“You have to stick to your guys, but then again you have to realize that’s a lot of money,” said Enis, who was out of the league after three seasons at 24. “I wanted to be here. But I got to believing the Bears were [jerking me around] and that my agent was doing the right thing.”
9. Smith is the leading Bears candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year at 85-1, according to my guy off the strip, Jimmy Shapiro. No one else was listed among the contenders. But you can get 200-1 on Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks and Danny Trevathan.
10. Bear-ometer: The Smith holdout will end up being moot, as he gradually acclimates himself to Fangio’s defense and starts by Week 3. He will struggle early, but he will be better at the end. And he will not be suspended.