Bears

In a way, Roquan Smith's recent struggles mirror the Bears' larger defensive issues

roquan_smith_injured_in_practice_slide.jpg
USA Today

In a way, Roquan Smith's recent struggles mirror the Bears' larger defensive issues

It’s wild to think about how, only two months ago, Bears’ linebacker Roquan Smith was wrapping up a month of training camp where – on more than one occasion – he looked like the best player on the team. Hyperbole reigns in Bourbonnais, but given his stellar rookie season, expectations for Smith’s second season were through the roof. 

Fast forward six games, and Smith’s season has looked far closer to a worst-case scenario than the All-Pro campaign that many (including yours truly) had him locked in for. Personal issues aside, Smith’s performance on the field hasn’t lived up to the standard he set last year, when he led the team in total tackles (122). 

“He can definitely play better,” Matt Nagy said on Tuesday. “And he knows that. That’s where we’re at right now. And he’s gonna. I think he will. We all know exactly what we’ve all done together in the last couple weeks.” 

Nagy wouldn’t speculate on whether Smith is still finding his form after missing some time with an off-field issue that was never disclosed. Last Sunday he was only on the field for 54 of 78 snaps, and seemed to be subbed out on 3rd down more frequently than in the past. When he has been on the field – especially in the last two games – the tape hasn’t been kind. 

Per Pro Football Focus, here’s how Smith graded out, and where it ranked among all linebackers, after his rookie season: 

Overall Def: 65.0 (71)
Run defense: 55.1 (137) 
Tackling: 73.9 (69)
Pass Rush: 72.8 (28) 
Coverage: 67.8 (41)

And now, this season: 

Overall Def: 48.0 (117) 
Run defense: 50.3 (113)
Tackling: 77.5 (31)
Pass Rush: 47.2 (131)
Coverage: 50.7 (95)

“He’s doing everything he can,” Nagy added. “None of it is because of lack of effort or want or any of that. And none of it is because of the lack of couldn’t. We all look at each other. We all want to help each other out. And we feel like we all can coach and play better.”

In some ways, Smith’s issues are a good microcosm of what’s plagued the Bears’ defense over the last month. Eddie Jackson said that side of the ball has lost some of their swagger, and even a casual eye test can see that the team isn’t playing with quite the same physicality that became their calling card under Vic Fangio. 

“Well, I would agree with that,” Nagy added. “There hasn’t been that physicality. They know that. Again, none of it is because of a lack of want. A lot of it just comes down to there are certain plays and certain parts of the game that it’s not getting done, and it was before.” 

Losing Akiem Hicks obviously doesn’t help. The Bears’ defense still has plenty of talent at all levels, however, and no one inside Halas Hall (and certainly no one outside it) is feeling sorry for themselves. 

“I think it’s preparation,” Nagy replied when asked how the defense could get back to an elite level. “Then there’s reactionary skills, of when it happens, you’re prepared, you saw what happened and you can react. That’s probably the biggest thing. That’s something you would have to ask each and every player because they’re all different on how much they prepare and how well they prepare.”

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.

Khalil Mack pays off holiday debts at Walmart in his hometown

Khalil Mack pays off holiday debts at Walmart in his hometown

Khalil Mack is doing good in his hometown during the holiday season.

Mack paid off more than 300 layaway accounts at a Walmart in his hometown of Fort Pierce, Fla. Mack paid through the Khalil Mack Foundation.

The Fort Pierce Walmart announced his good deed on their Facebook page:

“We have some wonderful news! If you have an active Holiday Layaway account at your local Ft. Pierce Wal-Mart, you account has been paid off!

“We here at Walmart would like to thank the Khalil Mack Foundation for your generosity, and for making so many families happy for the holidays!”

Mack has been a big play player for the Bears defense since joining the team last year. Here is an example of a big play off the field from Mack.

2020 NFL Draft: Bears land CB, OT in 7-round mock draft

2020 NFL Draft: Bears land CB, OT in 7-round mock draft

The 2019 NFL season is in its final quarter, and with the Bears essentially needing to win out while also getting some help around the league to make the playoffs, it's important to keep track of the trending NFL Draft narrative building around this team.

The funny thing, however, is that that narrative continues to change.

Just a few weeks ago, the Bears were considered a team that would potentially dip into the pool of quarterback prospects in the early second round, but with the emergence of Mitch Trubisky (he's thrown for 582 yards and six touchdowns in the last two games alone), it appears less likely that GM Ryan Pace will use one of his few draft assets on one.

Tight end was also considered a target for the Bears in the second round, and that could remain the case as the season marches on. But Jesper Horsted is beginning to look like a legitimate sleeper to emerge as part of the answer at such a critical position in coach Matt Nagy's offense.

So where does that leave this team's hierarchy of draft needs as the offseason inches closer? 

According to CBS Sports' new seven-round mock draft, the first two positions the Bears will address with their two second-round picks are cornerback and offensive tackle. In this mock, Chicago grabs TCU corner Jeff Gladney (No. 49 overall) and Iowa offensive tackle Alaris Jackson (No. 50 overall).

Gladney will participate in this year's Senior Bowl at the end of January after a standout career with the Horned Frogs. He was rated the No. 1 cornerback in the Big 12 by Pro Football Focus in 2018 and has been solid once again this season, although he's managed just one interception on the year. 

At 6-foot, 183 pounds, Gladney has an NFL frame and the kind of high-end coverage skills the Bears should be looking to add to the roster. Prince Amukamara's contract expires at the end of next season, and drafting a player like Gladney, combined with 2019 sixth-round pick Dukey Shelley, would strengthen the team's pipeline of young cornerbacks who will eventually be called upon to play.

Jackson, who the Bears take with their second second-rounder in this scenario, suffered an early-season knee injury but returned to earn Third Team All-Big 10 honors this year.

Jackson combined with Tristan Wirfs to give Iowa one of the best offensive tackle duos in college football, but Jackson offers a little less upside on the edge moving forward. Still, the Bears have suffered from underwhelming offensive line play all season and won't hesitate to add a player with Jackson's pedigree early in this year's draft.

As for the rest of the Bears' draft haul, here are some highlights:

Round 4 (projected compensatory pick): Colby Parkinson, TE, Stanford

Parkinson began the 2019 season with some chatter that suggested he'd end the year as the top tight end in the class. And while he ended the season with 48 catches for 589 yards and a touchdown, it wasn't quite the production expected from a player who was supposed to be the next in the long line of promising Stanford tight ends. 

Parkinson's underwhelming season could be the Bears' gain, however. The best part of his game is his ability as a receiver, which is what Chicago is missing most from its offense right now. If he slides into Day 3 and the Bears end up with a compensatory pick in this range, he'd certainly be a viable target.

Round 5 (from Eagles): K.J. Costello, QB, Stanford

Why not tap into the Stanford program twice on Day 3? This time, the Bears go with the guy who was throwing passes to Parkinson. Costello is a solid Day-3 quarterback prospect who has some physical limitations and an awkward throwing motion, but it's critical that Pace adds a developmental passer to the roster even if it's just to become a long-term backup for Trubisky (assuming Trubisky keeps the job).

Costello's been injured all season and was limited to just five games in what was supposed to be a senior year that put him in the first-round conversation. Instead, he'll slide into the third day (at least, he should). He'd make a lot of sense for the Bears, especially from a public relations standpoint. He isn't quite good enough to legitimately challenge Trubisky in 2020, but he has enough talent to potentially develop into a respectable starter down the road.

Round 7: Tucker McCann (K, Missouri)

Kicker alert! Would the Bears dare using a draft pick on a kicker? It seems highly unlikely, especially since Eddy Pineiro is beginning to play better. He's made all of his field-goal attempts during Chicago's three-game winning streak.

That said, Pineiro is connecting on just 76% of his kicks this season, which ranks 25th in the NFL. Not good.

Pace is a pretty loyal guy, and with Pineiro kicking under some of the most intense pressure of any kicking situation in the NFL, one could argue he's weathered the storm pretty well.

The next three games will determine whether Pineiro's roster spot is safe in 2020. If he remains hot, he'll be back. It's as simple as that.

Here is the total Bears' mock draft:

Round 2: Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU
Round 2: Alaric Jackson, OL, Iowa
Round 4: Colby Parkinson, TE, Stanford
Round 5: K.J. Costello, QB, Stanford
Round 5: Larrell Murchison, DL, NC State
Round 5: Kalija Lipscomb, WR, Vanderbilt
Round 6: Tyler Higby, G, Michigan State
Round 7: Tucker McCann, K, Missouri

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.