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Seeing is believing: Rookie LB Roquan Smith quickly becoming standout for Bears

Inside linebacker Danny Trevathan sees and feels what’s happening with rookie Roquan Smith. He sees the tackles and sacks. He feels Smith’s speed when playing next to him.

And Trevathan has seen a young player who was once feeling things out become his competition.

“There is now,” Trevathan said, smiling. “It’s all about that. You don’t really say it’s competition. But it’s all about playing well together and flying to the ball.

“He always jokes, and we joke about who is the fastest linebacker. But we all know who is the fastest linebacker. I ain’t lost a step now.”

Bears LB Roquan Smith is playing much better nine games into the season. / Matt Marton/Associated Press

Bears LB Roquan Smith is playing much better nine games into the season. / Matt Marton/Associated Press

As the saying goes, Smith has come into his own, and everyone — from Trevathan to defensive lineman Akiem Hicks to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to coach Matt Nagy — has seen it on the field.

Smith combined to make a team-best 23 tackles — including 20 solo — in the Bears’ victories against the Bills and Lions. He also sacked Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.

But there’s more to Smith’s success than his numbers. It took several weeks, but Smith is starting to resemble the instinctual tackling machine he was at Georgia.

“He’s playing good,” Fangio said. “And I think he’s getting better and better every day and not just every game. I see better things in practice, just little things, processing quicker, executing his job crisper and more quickly. He’s getting better every day.”

It took time to reach this point after Smith missed the Bourbonnais portion of training camp because of his contract dispute. But Smith’s recent emergence is the result of concerted efforts led by Fangio and Trevathan. Everyone has apparently seen that, too.

“Vic has taken extra time to make sure that ‘Ro’ was ready when he came into training camp late, and Danny, as well,” Hicks said. “[Trevathan] made sure that [Smith] was prepared, and [he] just stayed on him about the little things.

“And the type of personality that Roquan has, he can take all that in and apply that on the field. And so it’s been a good transition for him.”

That transition includes hanging out at Trevathan’s house during the season.

“We do a lot of linebacker stuff,” Trevathan said. “We can’t really get into a lot of the details about it. But we have fun. We chill. And we work hard for one another because we know one another so well. We’ve created that family environment.”

It’s the mindset that Trevathan, who won Super Bowl 50 with the Broncos, wants Smith to have when he plays next to him. They need to have more than chemistry as players.

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“I look at it as more of a relationship,” Trevathan said. “[It’s] just being comfortable with him. It’s kind of like thinking before him sometimes, being in his mind.

“[I’m] trying to stay with him because in this game, you can get lost in here trying to do too much or thinking you’ve got to do something that’s bigger than what you’re supposed to.”

But big things are expected from Smith. Before Khalil Mack arrived, Smith was billed as the Bears’ new game-changer on defense. Those first-round qualities are showing up now.

“You see Roquan laterally moving around really well, and then there’s a couple of hits in there [against the Lions],” Nagy said. “He gave some thumpers, which is great. That’s who he is; that’s what he does.

“What you want to see from Roquan each game is the game get a little slower, and each play slower, so that he can react and use his instincts. You’re starting to see that.”

Smith’s emergence has resulted in fewer tackles for Trevathan. He has 66 tackles to Smith’s 63 despite having one more start. But Trevathan likes the competition, even if it’s mostly in jest.

“It’s all about having fun, competing and loving the game of football while you’re out there,” Trevathan said. “I’m looking forward to more of it.”

EPISODE 192