JJ STANKEVITZ

Setting the expectations for Roquan Smith as holdout comes to an end

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Setting the expectations for Roquan Smith as holdout comes to an end

Roquan Smith will participate in his first practice with the Bears since June this week, as the 2018 first-round pick’s four-week holdout is coming to an end, per multiple reports

Ideally, Smith would’ve reported to training camp in Bourbonnais on July 16 with the rest of the team’s rookies. Those 15 practices at Olivet Nazarene University could’ve been used for Smith to callous his body — to borrow a favorite term of coach Matt Nagy and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio — and learn the defense, all while gaining the trust of his teammates during the grind of training camp. None of that happened. 

But it would be a massive overreaction to say Smith definitely will not be ready for the start of the 2018 season. While Nagy did admit on Sunday Smith will likely be limited in what he can do Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers, the Bears still have four weeks of practices between now and that trip to Lambeau Field. 

So realistically, what can Smith expect when he finally puts on that orange “C” again? A few things:

1. A battle with Nick Kwiatkoski

It was telling how inside linebackers coach Glenn Pires talked about both Smith and Kwiatkoski last week. A sampling:

On Smith: “I think any time you’re not with your teammates and you’re not working with your teammates, it’s not going to be positive. So I don’t care who you are or what level you’re at, whenever you’re not with the guys and talking to Danny or talking to Nick or whoever you are, it’s certainly not going to be a positive.” 

On Kwiatkoski: “Anytime you can step across that white line and get reps, good things will happen. I go back to what I said when I started, the foundation was in the spring. Now it’s continuing, the physical part, and he’s taking advantage of all of that.”

Smith was always going to have to beat out Kwiatkoski, a third-year player who coaches trust, for a starting gig. But Kwiatkoski got a head start on that competition and made the most of it in Bourbonnais, looking the part of a guy who meshes well with Danny Trevathan and has a strong grasp of Fangio’s scheme. 

That being said, Kwiatkoski is a good player. The Bears believe Smith can be a great player. If that evaluation is correct, Smith will be able to move past Kwiatkoski on the depth chart and slide into a starting role. Whether or not it will be for Week 1, though, will be a fascinating storyline to follow over the next few weeks. 

2. One preseason game, and that’s it?

Realistically, Smith may not have enough time to get himself ready to play in Saturday’s preseason game against the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium. Nagy said he doesn’t expect Wednesday and Thursday’s joint practices with the Broncos to be live, and Smith may have to hit someone on a practice field before he can hit someone in a game. 

That being said, the Bears may not be immediately ruling out Smith playing on Saturday:

The Bears could get Smith some limited reps on Saturday if they feel it’s necessary, but more likely is he builds up to making his preseason debut in Aug. 25’s preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Chances are, if Smith plays in that game, he’ll be held out of Aug. 30’s final preseason game against the Buffalo Bills, though the Bears could also opt to play him in that game in an effort to make up for lost time. 

One other thought: If Smith does play on Saturday in Denver, it would mean the Bears feel as if he joined them in good football shape, and could be — but not definitely is — a sign that he could start Week 1 in Green Bay after all. We probably won't get a plan for Smith out of Nagy this week (Nagy has declined to say who will and won't play prior to both preseason games so far), and this is a call on which Bears coaches and staff will take their time. 

3. His teammates will be there to help

If Smith’s holdout was beginning to annoy his teammates, none of them outwardly showed it during their time with the media. Certainly the feeling from those players was that they wanted Smith in camp as soon as possible, but there seemed to be a general understanding of his position and why he was holding out. 

“I want the best for him and I want the best for this organization, so either way that goes, I would hope that it gets figured out soon,” defensive end Akiem Hicks said on Saturday. 

Trevathan, in particular, has taken a positive tone when discussing Smith’s absence. After Sunday’s final training camp practice, the veteran linebacker said the biggest thing for Smith when he does start practicing will be to learn how to communicate with his teammates, but he also offered this: “We’ll get him tied in when he gets here. You kind of need that feel to be comfortable with the people you’re in and calls to be made sometimes, but we’ll get him right when he gets here.”

Having Trevathan as a resource will be important for Smith as he tries to get up to speed at an accelerated pace. The two remained in contact during his holdout, and Trevathan said he’s offered Smith support during the process. 

“I’ve just been trying to make sure he keeps his head right and just keeps being Roquan and roll,” Trevathan said. “You can’t let people change you. You’ve got to make the right decisions for you and the team misses you, but you’ve got to do what’s in front of you.”

4. An ascension into a starting role sooner rather than later

To sort of bring it back to the first point, Smith is going to start for the Bears in 2018 (if he doesn’t, something has gone horribly wrong). Coaches may get to early September and feel more comfortable with Kwiatkoski starting against the Packers than Smith, but even if that’s the case, that hardly means Smith will be relegated to the sidelines for long. 

A comforting thought for all parties involved in this stalemate, though, was this: If Smith truly is a great player, his holdout won’t keep him from being great. Perhaps that means he gets into practice, puts a bunch of positive things on tape — as he did during OTAs and minicamps — and gets the starting nod over Kwiatkoski in Week 1. While this holdout went longer than anyone would’ve hoped for, and wasn’t beneficial to any party, it may not have been detrimental to Smith’s 2018 outlook, and almost certainly was not detrimental to his long-term career outlook. 

In short: If Smith is the player the Bears (and plenty of other teams) thought he was back in April, this holdout will be forgotten about by, say, October. 

Report: Stalemate between Roquan Smith, Bears nearing an end

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Report: Stalemate between Roquan Smith, Bears nearing an end

Four weeks after rookies were to report to training camp, the Bears and linebacker Roquan Smith are close to a deal that would end the eighth overall pick’s holdout, according to multiple reports. 

If the Bears and Smith are indeed able to come to an agreement on Monday, expect to see No. 58 to be present for the first of two joint practices with the Denver Broncos on Wednesday in Colorado. Two practices may not be enough for Smith to be ready to play in Saturday’s preseason game against the Broncos at Mile High Stadium, but the Bears could reasonably target Aug. 25’s date with the Kansas City Chiefs for Smith’s preseason debut. 

On Sunday, coach Matt Nagy said Smith’s absence likely would limit what he could do for the Bears’ season opening date with the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. The Bears and Smith will still have four weeks of practices before that Week 1 Sunday Night Football curtain-lifter, though. 

“You’re playing at that position and there are a lot of calls that go on, very similar to a quarterback, there’s a lot going on,” Nagy said. “But I have full confidence in Vic (Fangio) and his staff that when he does get here, they’ll get him up to speed and whenever that is, we’ll see. But again, that’s why we all get paid as coaches is to try to help our players out as much as possible and that’s kind of where we’re at.”

Postcard from Camp: Three big things we learned about the Bears in Bourbonnais

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Postcard from Camp: Three big things we learned about the Bears in Bourbonnais

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — The Bears held their final practice of training camp at Olivet Nazarene University on Sunday, with some non-padded, lighter work putting an end to a lengthy stay down here off I-57. After 15 practices and two trips to Ohio, the Bears break camp having a better idea of what they can be in 2018 — but not having the complete picture yet. 

So the final postcard from Bourbonnais will look at the three most important things we learned about the Bears since players reported to camp on July 19:

1. Roquan Smith's absence is impacting his readiness for the regular season. 

Sunday’s practice made it official: The Bears’ first-round pick did not participate at all during training camp. Smith, his agents with CAA and the Bears have been locked in this stalemate for nearly four weeks and there haven’t been any signs of an end in sight. 

On Sunday, Nagy admitted that he thinks Smith’s absence will almost certainly limit what he can do in the thing the whole preseason is building toward: Sept. 9’s season-opening game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. 

“You’re playing at that position and there are a lot of calls that go on, very similar to a quarterback, there’s a lot going on,” Nagy said. “But I have full confidence in Vic (Fangio) and his staff that when he does get here, they’ll get him up to speed and whenever that is, we’ll see. But again, that’s why we all get paid as coaches is to try to help our players out as much as possible and that’s kind of where we’re at.”

In what’s been an otherwise positive camp, the impasse between Smith and the Bears has provided consistent jabs of negativity. When the Bears drafted the Georgia product back in April, the thought was — for arguably the first time in the Ryan Pace era — they took a guy who would be ready not only to start Week 1, but to be a key contributor from the start of a season (that's to say that Kevin White, Leonard Floyd and Mitch Trubisky were more long-term projections). The chances of Smith being that guy have dwindled by the day, to the point where the expectation should be for Nick Kwiatkoski to start next to Danny Trevathan in Green Bay barring something unexpected. 

And that’s disappointing for everyone involved in this standoff. It should be disappointing for Bears’ management that they can’t get a deal signed, for whatever reason it may be. It should be disappointing for the Bears’ coaches that the only major addition to this defense missed the entirety of training camp. It should be disappointing for Smith’s teammates that he missed the grind of camp they all had to go through. It should be disappointing for Smith that there’s an increasingly good chance he’ll primarily be on the sidelines for his first pro football game. And it should be disappointing for Smith’s representation that this holdout hasn’t produced the result they hope for yet, and now may cost their client a chance to play in Week 1. 

How this situation gets resolved is anyone’s guess. For Smith’s long-term career outlook, missing his first training camp probably won’t change anything — if he’s great, he’ll be great. But this messy situation needs to be resolved, because it’s already reached the point where it’s likely to impact not only the Bears’ first game of the year, but a game against, well, the Green Bay Packers. If the Bears win that game, it could set the tone for the 2018 season and Nagy’s tenure; a loss, with Smith either not playing or playing poorly, could be seen as more of the same for an organization that would then fall to 3-17 in their last 20 meetings with the Packers. 

2. The offense is a work in progress, but that’s okay. 

Trubisky had some good days and bad days in Bourbonnais, all of which were important to keep in perspective. A few good days didn’t mean the second-year quarterback all of a sudden was ready to run this offense in the regular season; a few bad days weren’t a sign the offense was destined to fail or that Pace whiffed on drafting him with the No. 2 pick in 2017. 

More than anything, training camp was about installing the offense and being aggressive while doing so. That led to some mistakes, both noticeable (like interceptions) and more hidden (like spitting out a play call but getting the “Z” and “Zebra” receivers mixed up). 

So the Bears break camp with their offense having a ways to go before it’s ready to be rolled out Week 1 in Green Bay. But Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich will move on from focusing on installing the offense to actual gameplanning in the coming weeks leading up to Aug. 25’s preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Expect to see a much better version of the offense that day than what showed up in Cincinnati last week, because coaches expect Trubisky to have “total command” of the offense by that point. 

“For a quarterback, you just want an immediate picture in your head of what's going on,” Helfrich said in late July. “One thing to think about, not seven. Right now, we're still at that stage where it’s, okay, who's at this position, what's my personnel group, what's the snap count and all the things that take place. It is truly a process right now whereas (when we’re done with installing the offense) that will be seamless.”

3. While the offense is a work in progress, the talent sure looks like it’s there. 

Anthony Miller had one of the best training camps of anyone down here in Bourbonnais, and while he’s not a finished product by any stretch he looks like a guy who can contribute in Week 1. Allen Robinson said his surgically-repaired knee feels “great,” and he’s in line to play in Saturday’s preseason game against the Denver Broncos after having a strong camp, too. 

Anecdotally, Trey Burton seemed to catch everything thrown at him, even on days when the guys around him were having trouble catching the ball. Adam Shaheen put some good things on tape not only in practices, but in last week’s preseason game against the Bengals. Taylor Gabriel and Tarik Cohen have been all over the place in the best way possible. 

Jordan Howard’s hands looked better, though seeing him catch passes in live game action may be a better barometer. James Daniels did some good things after being moved to center, where he starred at Iowa, last week. Kyle Long was healthy. The list goes on. 

The point being: The Bears’ personnel on offense was largely overhauled in the offseason, and the difference in talent and skill between the group of guys who were here a year ago and this current group is about as obvious as water being wet. 

That doesn’t mean the Bears’ offense is definitely going to take off from being one of the worst in the league to being one of the best. But the pieces are there for a significant improvement; it’s on the coaching staff and, crucially, the quarterback to make sure that improvement happens. 

“We have to be able to have an identity on offense,” backup quarterback Chase Daniel sad. “Our defense knows what their identity is. They were top 10 in the league (last year). This is a new offense. We have to know what we do, how we do it and when to do it. That’s on the coaches. That’s on the players, especially. Just run it to the best of our ability whenever the play is called.”