Here is part 2 of the rookie quarterly report. As was the case with part 1, I have posted a copy of the transcript as well. Enjoy!
This is....The Bears Link Film Study with Andrew Link.
In this episode, which is the 2nd of 2 parts, I am going to take a look at how the Bears rookies have performed through the first quarter of the season.
The first player we are going to talk about is what will hopefully be the highest Bears draft pick for a while, inside linebacker Roquan Smith
A lot of people have wondered how well Smith is actually playing, due to the fact that he isn’t making a ton of “splash” plays. While that is true, he isn’t making those types of plays...yet, he is making a tremendous impact on the game.
Smith reminds me a lot of Eddie Jackson from last year. He’s been more physical than I thought at times, but also getting overpowered at others, which I expected. The speed and instincts are on full display but generally are a hair late. The type of thing that comes with experience and becoming a professional.
I will touch on his struggles, really just physical limitations that we already knew about, and the reasons why I believe Smith has a chance to supplant Luke Kuechly as the new premier inside linebacker in the NFC.
There aren’t a lot of examples of Smith playing poorly, and really, all but one are him just getting physically overpowered. Which was something that I was worried about when he was drafted. Rarely do you see Smith out of position, so his limitations right now are things that he can change by getting stronger and using techniques.
The Bears are playing a cover-3 look on this play. But they show a cover-2 look at the snap of the ball, but watch the safeties rotate. Adrian Amos drops into a single-high look, while Eddie Jackson comes down into the intermediate zone. The 2 inside linebackers (Smith and Danny Trevathan), plus nickel corner Bryce Callahan and Jackson, play quarters at the sticks, meaning each player gets a quarter of the field.
Let’s start with the positives on this play. The Bears force a check down to the running back David Johnson in the left flat. This play should have forced a 3rd & 5 as the Bears have 3 players in position to make the tackle.
Roquan Smith comes from a LONG ways a way to get in position here. This shows off his sideline-to-sideline speed, but he needs to play more in-control of that speed. Instead of slowing down to contain Johnson from cutting back inside, and forcing him into the waiting arms of Jackson and Trevthan, he goes for the kill and ends up overrunning the play, which gets Johnson and extra 10-12 yards and a first down.
This is one of the more egregious things that I see Smith do right now is overrun things. The game is still a little quick for him, but that will work itself out as the season goes along.
Where Smith has really succeeded has been in coverage, which is one of the reasons why people don’t see the huge plays from him. Instead of making a ton of plays, he simply prevents the other team from making them, which is just as valuable.
Against the run is where he struggles but it’s also where we see his instincts and athleticism shine the most. It is a joy to watch a linebacker read, diagnose, scrape, and make a play against the run.
If Smith can continue to work in the film room and build a mental library, he will continue to grow and succeed.
This is a modern version of the toss sweep. Arizona show misdirection (to freeze the linebackers) by putting Christian Kirk in a jet sweep motion to left. The left tackle pulls around the outside, a combination of tight end and wide receiver have to block Khalil Mack, and the center is supposed to get out on the MIKE linebacker, Roquan Smith in this case.
But when you see an offensive lineman doing his best mummy impression, you know that the defender won with play recognition and speed. Smith eventually undercuts the pulling tackle and makes the play.
Defense is all about the team though. Mack almost blows this play up in the backfield, but he gets hooked a bit and can’t get off the blocks in time. But watch Kyle Fuller. He takes out the pulling tackle, which causes a pileup that running back Chase Edmunds is forced to cut inside of. Funnel the ball carrier to your inside help, that’s good football.
Sticking with the instincts and athleticism theme, this is a prime example of both, while also showing his coverage ability. Circling back to why Smith is playing well by taking plays away instead of making plays. Ask yourself this: How many tight ends or running backs have you seen kill the Bears this year? Yeah, it really hasn’t happened and 2 main reasons for that are Leonard Floyd and Roquan Smith.
The Bears again show a cover-2 look but back out of that into a cover-1. Eddie Jackson rotates to the single-high safety look and Amos comes down to play man coverage on the tight end. The inside linebackers are playing the curl zones. Bradford’s only option was to dump the ball off the running back on this play.
Smith breaks on this ball as soon as Bradford looks towards Johnson. The closing speed is incredible. Smith closes the 5-yard gap by the time the ball gets there and this play ends up going for a loss of 3 yards. This is the type of play that will eventually go as a pick-6 as Smith digests more film.
One more play to illustrate just how good Smith is in coverage. These are the plays that you can’t see on the television broadcast, the angle simply isn’t there. There are dozens of these kinds of plays on Smith’s film, he is just so good in coverage. This isn’t a huge shock to me as he showed this ability at Georgia, but to see it immediately against NFL competition is pretty amazing.
The Bears are actually playing cover-2 this time, so this should look somewhat familiar, except the Bears rotate Fuller to safety and Amos to the MIKE. How cool is this coverage that Fangio runs here? He disguises the cover-2 inside of the cover-2....mind. blown.
What else might not look familiar, however, is how well Smith plays this coverage. Smith is playing the WILL on this play, meaning that he has the Lance Briggs spot playing the curl/seam.
Crossing routes can often confuse players is a zone. But Smith passes off Larry Fitzgerald and picks up David Johnson on a quick out and through the scramble drill.
This is an excellent play by a linebacker and another example of why Smith is an integral part of this defense, even if he doesn’t have big numbers or splash plays. He is doing the dirty work very well, but the big plays are coming, you can take that to the bank!
As a bonus, I wanted to look at undrafted rookie cornerback Kevin Toliver. I thought he was playing well while watching live and the tape mostly backs that up. Sure, double moves have gotten him a few times, but they do to all young corners. But he’s physical against the run and does very well in off-man coverage, which he’s played exclusively so far.
I gotta say, Toliver reminds me a ton of Kyle Fuller. From the physicality in the running game, to the penchant for playing off-man coverage, to they way that they get into position is almost identical.
At some point, the Bears are going to need to shed some of the high-priced players on defense. If Toliver can grow into the role opposite of Fuller and allow the Bears to part ways with Prince Amukamara, that would be a huge help to the salary cap. Ryan Pace has done an excellent job with undrafted free agents, and Toliver looks like the next hit.
Just watch how both Toliver and Fuller line up here. Don’t they look like twins? They even give up the same amount of cushion at the top of their routes.
Through a game and a half, Toliver has gotten his feet wet, but it looks like Prince is ready to come back on the field. He is going to need a little more time to become the player that many thought he could be coming out of LSU, but for now, that seasoning will come in practice.
I can’t wait to see what Toliver can turn into. He is exciting to watch and I would love to have another corner like Fuller on the field. Just watch him stick his nose in there and tell me he doesn’t play like Fuller!
That’s going to wrap it up for part 2 of the Quarterly Rookie Report on the Bears Link Film Study.
I have some fun topics planned for future episodes, so stay tuned for those.
Until next time....Bear down!
As always, feel free to share your thought below!