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:
Bears’ LB Roquan Smith could report to the team as early as tonight and, depending on his physical condition, could make his NFL debut Saturday night at Denver vs. the Broncos.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 13, 2018
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.