You can add Roquan Smith’s name to the long list of Chicago Bears players with something to prove in 2020. And that sense of urgency he should be playing with is a big reason why I have him at number eight on my 10 Most Important Bears list this year.
Smith wasn’t bad in 2019, but his play didn’t take a step forward from is debut year when he was named to the 2018 PFWA All-Rookie Team. There was a mysterious personal issue that kept him out of a game early in the year, and then a torn pectoral muscle kept him from the team’s last three games. Even with missing four games he still had 101 tackles, but his overall impact in 2019 wasn’t has great as the year before and he’s fully aware he needs to play better this season.
“I got a huge chip on my shoulder,” Smith told the media back in June. “Just really excited. I don’t want much hype going into the year, because I know my mindset and what I plan to do this upcoming season. God willing, I stay healthy, I definitely feel like it’s going to be my best year to date. I feel like I’m going to do some things. A lot of people counted me out.”
In the two years since the Bears made him the eighth overall pick in the NFL Draft, Smith has flashed the speed, athleticism, and play making ability of a future Pro Bowler, and that’s exactly the type of expectations he and his coaches have as they prepare for the 2020 season.
“Ro played some really good football last year; I don’t want that to get lost in the shuffle,” inside linebackers coach Mark DeLeone said via the team’s website. “He had some excellent games and I think the big thing this year is we’ve got to make that consistent and have that be every game.”
Smith had a mini controversy in May when he shared a picture of himself and a porn star partying it up on a boat amid the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. That led many to assume that he wasn’t taking his rehab or prep for the 2020 season seriously, but Smith is on record as saying he’s fully recovered and his coaches believe he’s ready to break out this year.
“This is a big year for him. I do feel like there’s a gradual level where he’s getting better and I think going into Year 3 he’s going to have a chance to have a breakout year this year,” DeLeone said. “But he has been outstanding this offseason. I think he’s been phenomenal physically with his rehab and mentally with me. I’m really proud of him and really excited about the direction he’s going.”
DeLeone went on to say that Smith has been in constant contact with him this offseason picking his brain about football. “To me, Ro has always been a guy who loves football and is a football junkie.”
With a chip on his shoulder, a healthy pec, a heightened football I.Q., and his 4.5 speed still prevalent, Smith has an opportunity to be something special in 2020 for the Bears.