BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — As the Bears’ transition to Chuck Pagano’s scheme kicks into high gear during training camp, they do so with the benefit of two inside linebackers who the team’s best player believes can be All-Pros in 2019.
“You can say that's a large task for those guys,” outside linebacker Khalil Mack said. “But I don't think it will be.”
Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith are the nerve center for the Bears’ defense, and in 2018 were one of the league’s best inside linebacking duos. From a communication and leadership standpoint, it’s hard to think of a better player to have leading that Vic Fangio-to-Pagano switch than Trevathan, a seven-year veteran who won a Super Bowl four years ago and had a strong 2018.
From a pure talent standpoint, having Smith in the middle of this defense is, of course, massive. And that’s not discounting Trevathan’s own athletic skills (he had two interceptions and over 100 tackles last year) and Smith’s football I.Q. and leadership.
“(Smith) wants to be great,” Trevathan said. “That’s why we fit so well. We can play off one another. We both can run, we both can hit, we both like this game of football, man.”
Smith and Trevathan worked well together in 2018 despite Smith holding out of all of training camp, then getting injured shortly after signing his rookie contract in mid-August, leading to him participating in about one and a half preseason practices. While on one hand the success enjoyed by Smith (and Mack) last year is a mark against the importance of training camp, the Bears do believe having Smith and Trevathan grinding together in Bourbonnais will have a positive impact.
“They got some of that last year that they didn't have in training camp, but now, learning Chuck's defense and how that's going to go, any communication that they can get is going to be beneficial,” coach Matt Nagy said. “They both know each other now, their strengths and weaknesses. And they're both different. You got one savvy vet, you got a young guy coming in that is so hungry to be greatest ever to play the position so they mix well together.”
Smith, for what it’s worth, dismissed any talk of him being an All-Pro — “That's high praise but I'm just trying to be the best version of myself whether that's All-Pro or not,” he said — but his drive to be great isn’t in question. He’ll probably get more All-Pro and Pro Bowl buzz than Trevathan this year.
But don’t discount Trevathan’s impact on the Bears. He was the vocal leader of the NFL’s best defense in 2018 and started all 17 of his team’s regular season and postseason games. The 30-year-old — and free-agent-to-be after this season — is a vital part of what made the Bears’ defense great in 2018, and remains a critical reason why those around this team believe there won’t be a drop-off with a new coordinator in 2019.
“In my mind, I believe that I am All-Pro,” Trevathan said. “I might not have been there, but in my mind to this team, to my brothers, I want to practice and show up in games like a pro. My mentality is that I’m a pro. If that happens, I’m not worried about that stuff. I’m worried about getting my team better, getting my guys better.
“That stuff will happen. And Khalil knows what he’s talking about. He’s been to the Pro Bowl, so if he said that, I know that for sure.”