Roquan Smith

Bears Season in Review: Roquan Smith

Bears Season in Review: Roquan Smith

Bears linebacker Roquan Smith was supposed to ascend into superstar status in 2019, and while he certainly had some flashes of elite play, his year will best be remembered for a strange deactivation in Week 4 and a torn pec muscle that ended his season in Week 14.

We still don't know the exact reason why Smith didn't play against the Vikings. The team called it a personal issue and refused to expand on why one of their most important defensive pieces didn't suit up. We've been left to speculate, which is never a good thing. We may never know what exactly went wrong that week, which naturally creates worry and concern about how much the team can actually rely on Smith on a week-to-week basis. 

Smith's season ended after 12 starts, 100 tackles, two starts, and one interception. He was inconsistent on the field; when he played well, he was lights out. But he had more than his fair share of missed tackles and head-scratching moments that looked nothing like the player the Bears drafted eighth overall in 2018.

Smith ended the year as one of the lowest-graded Bears on defense (24th). His 52.4 ranked 124th among qualifying linebackers on Pro Football Focus. Not good.

But analytics don't always tell the full story. Smith's sideline-to-sideline speed and missile-like penetrating skill set is and will remain an asset for the Bears defense. On pure talent alone, Smith has few peers in the NFL. He just needs to become a more consistent football player, both on and off the field.

We'll chalk up 2019 as an odd blip on Smith's career trajectory. Assuming he makes a full offseason recovery from is pec injury, he'll begin 2020 as one of the cornerstone pieces of a defense that remains one of the NFL's best.

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New Year's Resolutions for the Bears' offense, defense, and special teams

New Year's Resolutions for the Bears' offense, defense, and special teams

It's Resolution season, baby. Time to set some lofty goals, slowly walk them back by March and forget them altogether by June. What's important is that we said them out loud now, so it counts. The Bears are probably setting some resolutions, or othey should because they finished 8-8. Here are some suggestions, just in case they needed any help, no pressure or anything: 

Offense – Figure Out Who Actually Plays What Position On The Offensive Line 

You'd think this would already be a somewhat-heavily emphasized part of the offense, and yet the Bears cannot seem to figure out where they want Cody Whitehair or James Daniels to play. 

"I think there's a couple of things there," GM Ryan Pace said when asked why the offensive line regressed in 2019. "The injury to Kyle [Long], switching Whitehair and James, injury to [Bobby] Massie late in the year. We struggled in that area this year. That's real, and I think we know it starts up front with those guys. That's something we've really got to look at. From a personnel standpoint we're gonna look at it. From a schematic standpoint, we're gonna look at it." 

Pace also said the team is still "evaluating" the long term plan for both Whitehair and Daniels, so even if the GM is playing his cards close to the vest, it's not a great look that the Bears have found themselves in a sort of no-man's-land with two very talented offensive linemen. For what it's worth, according to Pro Football Focus' grades, the Bears run- and pass-blocking almost immediately improved following the Week 10 switch. Fixing the running game is going to be one of the largest undertakings of the offseason, and fixing that starts with the offensive line. The firing of Harry Hiestand and subsequent hiring of Juan Castillo provides a peek into what direction the Bears are taking this offseason, but there are still plenty of questions up front that require honest assessment. 

Defense – Go To Yoga With Khalil Mack

Akiem Hicks missed 11 games this season. Danny Trevathan missed six, and Roquan Smith missed four. The Bears were due after 2018's injury-free season, but having three All-Pro-caliber starters, all in the middle of the defense, miss that much time was a dramatic swing in the wrong direction. Khalil Mack, however, continues to look stylishly comfortable in all of his yoga gear while playing every game of the season for the fifth time in his six-year career. And even in a "down" season, Mack finished as PFF's 16th-best pass rusher. False correlations? Maybe! But you probably can't go wrong doing whatever Khalil Mack's doing. 

Special Teams – Don't have too much fun in Miami 

I don't know why I titled it that, they're allowed to have as much in Miami as they want. Eddy Pineiro will spend his offseason training in South Florida with Pat O'Donnell, and that unit, along with holder Patrick Scales, have reportedly grown close:

"I think that Scales and Pat O’Donnell should get a lot of credit because they’ve helped raise him also just with their veteran leadership," said Special Teams coordinator Chris Tabor of Pineiro's late-season success. "The group is really tight and I’m proud of them.”

For Pineiro's part, the kicker said that while he's always working on improving his technique, his top priority while in South Florida will be putting on weight. Though he ended his season hitting his last 11 kicks, only one of those – the lone three points in a loss to Kansas City – was from farther than 40 yards. Pineiro admitted that having to consistently kick a cold ball took some getting used to, especially as he continued to work his way back from a pinched nerve in his kicking knee. Just throw a couple footballs in the freezer when you're down there, Eddy. 

Ryan Pace provides injury updates on Roquan Smith, Anthony Miller and Trey Burton

Ryan Pace provides injury updates on Roquan Smith, Anthony Miller and Trey Burton

The Bears were hit hard by injuries in 2019. The list of players who missed time was like a who's who of Bears starters: Kyle Long, Akiem Hicks, Mitch Trubisky, Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan and Trey Burton, among others.

Wide receiver Anthony Miller didn't miss any time during the regular season, but his year ended with a left shoulder injury on a kickoff return in the season finale against the Vikings.

Bears general manager Ryan Pace met with reporters Tuesday at Halas Hall and offered an update on three of Chicago's walking wounded.

Pace said Miller will likey go under the knife to repair that left shoulder, which is the same one he had worked on after his rookie season. He injured the shoulder on a kick return Sunday in Minnesota.

"We don't have any long-term concerns," Pace said of Miller's injury. "He needs to continue maturing on the field. His talent is there. I love his energy."

As expected, Smith had surgery on his torn pec and is targeting a training-camp return. Burton, meanwhile, had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip and, like Smith, is expected to be healthy for camp later this summer.

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