Roquan Smith arrived at Halas Hall for rookie minicamp dealt with some closure on the theft of his team-issued iPad and personal belongings, as police in Athens apprehended a 20-year-old Georgia student accused of the crime.
That wasn’t the way Smith hoped to make headlines two weeks into his time with the Bears, but he said all the right things when it came to football on Friday at Halas Hall.
Not unfairly, Smith has already been anointed as a starting linebacker for the 2018 Bears — if he’s not come Sept. 9 in Green Bay, it would raise questions about what Ryan Pace (and, to be fair, plenty of other general managers) missed in evaluating him. But Smith still needs to earn that role by proving to the Bears’ coaching staff he’s worthy of earning that role, whether it’s through good practices in OTAs, minicamps and training camp and/or displaying a strong knowledge of Vic Fangio’s defense in meetings.
“I’m not thinking about just being a starter,” Smith said. “I’ll start on special teams if that’s what they want me to do, I’ll do it. It’s not like I’m just saying, ‘Hey, I have to be the starter.’ You crawl before you walk.”
No matter the position, that’s exactly the approach every team wants its highly-drafted players to take. Smith may be the eighth overall pick, but he’s still a rookie competing with players who’ve been in the league for multiple years. The same goes for Anthony Miller and James Daniels, too.
“He’s going to embrace it,” coach Matt Nagy said. “He understands, also, that he just went from a big fish in a small pond to now a small fish in a big pond. So for him, he’s got to know that. For all these guy that come in here, you’ve got to be able to come here and show what you can do. Just because you’re the No. 8 pick in the draft doesn’t mean you just walk into this thing. You’ve got to earn it.
“We’ve made that clear to everybody on this team. Competition is great. We just want him to come in here … and he’s going to do that. He’s going to be a great teammate, he’s going to ask questions and he’s going to realize that it does need to be earned. I have no doubt in my mind that he’ll show that support for his teammates and the guys will do the same in turn to him.”
Rookie minicamp is beneficial for the Bears’ coaching staff in that it allows them to get their hands on these drafted, undrafted and tryout players for three days before the rest of the team shows up for OTAs next week. For Smith, it’s his first opportunity to move toward winning that starting job that he’s expected to have — but doesn’t have yet.
“His command of the huddle, his leadership — we know he’s a good football player, but how does he take to this defense?” Nagy said. “He’s a quick study, he’s a quick learner. So just being able to see him play fast. At any position you want to make sure guys understand it so they can play fast. If they don’t understand it, they play a little slower and they can’t shine. It’s going to be, how quick does that happen? He’s going to eventually 100 percent get it. It’s just how quickly will he get there?”