Roquan Smith’s season is over.
During his Monday morning press conference, Matt Nagy announced that Smith did in fact tear a pectoral muscle and will be placed on injured reserve.
“[It’s] unfortunate for him,” Nagy added. “He’s really putting together a good year. But he’ll bounce back and that’s that.”
Not only did Smith’s injury come at the worst possible time for the Bears – two of their last three games are against NFC North rivals on the road – but the injury ends what was the best extended run of play in the second-year linebacker’s career. He'll undergo surgery to fix the muscle, and the timeline for his return is still unclear.
“I really thought you felt him – especially here in the last several games – really turning it on, really playing fast,” Nagy said. “He’s always had that – every play that he gets, every game that he plays, for the rest of his career, he’s only gonna get better and better in my opinion.”
Comparing his two seasons on paper would suggest that Smith regressed after a Pro Bowl-caliber rookie season, but that doesn't tell the whole story. It's remarkable that he may still finish the season as the team leader in tackles, not to mention the fact that he was on pace to eclipse last season's stats. He would have needed a few more big games, but going into Thursday night, Smith had logged double-digit tackles in four of his last five starts, including a career-high (16) in their Thanksgiving win just a week before. He finishes 2019 with 100 tackles, two sacks and one interception in 12 games played.
“One thing you can say about Roquan is he will run sideline to sideline,” Akiem Hicks added. “I mean, he just has a pair of wheels on him that just won't stop. That's one of the things that separates him is he can get anywhere you need him to be, whether it's coverage or chasing a running back in the flats. It's pretty impressive.”
Nagy and the Bears talked at length on Monday about the ‘ebb and flow’ of an NFL season, especially as it pertains to younger players. He was quick to dismiss the idea that the mysterious-now-bordering-on-infamous personal absence, which caused Smith to miss Week 4’s win over Minnesota, in any way negatively affected how the organization views Smith’s year-to-year progress. His toughness has never been questioned – Prince Amukamara admitted that he was pretty confident Smith tore the muscle several plays before he came out – and coaches have been pleased with how he stepped up as a leader, especially in Danny Trevathan’s absence.
“Well last year, coming in missing training camp and then being a rookie with an experienced defense – that can be challenging and he did a good job,” Nagy said. “Then coming into this year, you could sense his personality – you could see it extend a little bit more. You could see the relationships he had with those guys. You could see Danny Trevathan really take him under his wing and that was very important. So he's a guy that's really been growing …”
And now the Bears head into the three straight weeks of playoff games that aren’t playoff games with Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre-Louis as their starting inside linebacker duo. It’s a far cry from what the envisioned in Bourbonnais, but Kwiatkoski has earned himself more money every week, and as his top-grade performance against the Cowboys showed, KPL is no slouch either. Pierre-Louis is in line to make only the second start of his six-year career when the Bears head to Lambeau Field on Sunday.
“Once again, it’s just going back to knowing your ‘Why,’” Pierre-Louis said. “Why you grind each week, why you do the drills, why you go through the reps in practice. It’s times like this when you lean on your brothers. Ro’s down right now, and he’s going to need us for moral support…
“We have the right pieces. I just have to make sure that I do my job, and the rest of the team is going to have my back.”