Roquan Smith began his Bears career with a highlight, sacking DeShone Kizer as part of that magnificent (but ill-fated) first half against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in Week 1. Since then, though, the rookie inside linebacker has been sort of anonymous within a dominant Bears’ defense.
And that’s been fine — fellow inside linebacker Danny Trevathan won NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against the Seattle Seahawks, and the outstanding play of Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and the rest of the Bears’ front seven has helped give the No. 8 overall pick a soft landing in the NFL.
But make no mistake, inside linebackers coach Glenn Pires stressed. Smith’s time is coming.
“I’m just so positive and so excited about where he is right now,” Pires said. “I hope it’s — sky’s the limit. I mean, he’s got so many great, great qualities and he’s just like a little flower that hasn’t even bloomed yet. It’s small. It’s got so much more to go. I’m looking forward to it.”
An important factor in Smith’s development, and play within the Bears’ defense, has been the strides made by Trevathan over the course of 2018.
It’s worth noting that Trevathan didn’t participate in OTAs or minicamps in 2017, which would’ve been his second year in Vic Fangio’s defense, after suffering a torn patellar tendon in November of 2016. While it was admirable and impressive that Trevathan made it back for training camp and was a Week 1 starter last year, missing those springtime reps robbed him of an important learning opportunity.
So that Trevathan was healthy and a regular participant during this year’s offseason program was critical for his own growth. And while Smith being present for the same practices in May and June was beneficial for his knowledge of the defense, too, he missed the entirety of training camp and barely practiced after ending his holdout in mid-August. That’s where Trevathan’s much-improved knowledge of Fangio’s defense is important for Smith.
“You cannot put a value and put a number on those days that he missed,” Pires said. “It’s funny because we get done with OTAs and we sit down as a staff and talk about guys and everything else, and after this past OTAs, we looked at Danny Trevathan — probably one of the most-improved guys we got in terms of him understanding and playing. You can’t be a leader if you don’t know what you’re doing. He now has a greater understanding of what we doing and now the leadership role keeps on going up. It’s been great for him.”
Trevathan hit home for two sacks and forced a fumble in Week 2 against the Seahawks, and picked off Jameis Winston in the Bears’ blowout win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But beyond the production, what Pires has been pleased with has been what Trevathan has done before the snap — specifically with Smith.
“You see them in games, they’re always communicating and talking,” Pires said. “I put so much weight on watching before the ball is snapped how much they’re talking to each other, how much they’re communicating with each other because so much is won before the ball is snapped and Danny has done a great job.”
The Bears’ defense proved to be the best in the NFL through the first four weeks of the season, but all great defenses have to adapt and evolve as a season goes on. And the growth expected by Bears coaches from Smith, with the aid of Trevathan, could be a reason why this defense stays on top of the league from Week 5 to Week 9 to Week 13 to Week 17.