Here’s a spoiler for my 10 Most Important Chicago Bears series; Roquan Smith isn’t on it this year. That’s not to say I don’t expect big things from Roquan, or that he’s not a huge part of the team, but I’m already penciling him in for another 100+ tackles and a stuffed stat sheet. Whether he’s lining up at the Mike or the Will, Smith is going to punch the clock each week on the way to another All-Pro team and a huge contract extension.
But their other primary linebacker, free agent pickup Nicholas Morrow, has a lot to prove. The Bears are expecting big things from Morrow, as the middle and weakside linebacker in the Bears new Tampa 2-esque scheme will rarely leave the field. Chicago only inked him to a one-year deal (worth $2.5 million), but at 27-years old he’ll be looking to put his stamp on the defense and earn an extension for himself.
“In Nicholas we are getting a linebacker who plays the game fast and he is instinctive and intelligent,” general manager Ryan Poles said back in March after they signed him. “He attacks the game with an edge and a mindset to be great. It is going to be exciting to see him come in and improve our defense with that mentality.”
At times this offseason Morrow was manning the middle with the green dot on his helmet as the play caller, but that’s likely due to his familiarity with the Bears’ defense. Coming in he had more work in an even front than Roquan did, plus he was with Rod Marinelli (a Tampa 2 guy) in Las Vegas in 2020.
That was also the last season he played as he missed all of the 2021 season with an injury, but his all-around play flashed that year as he lined up at all three linebacker spots. He racked up 78 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 6 QB hits, 9 passes defended, an interception, a fumble recovery, and a forced fumble, all while allowing opposing quarterbacks a passer rating of just 86.1 when targeting receivers he was covering.
“His résumé is the tape,” head coach Matt Eberflus said of the 6’, 225 pound Morrow. “Worker. Prepares. Very smart. You can see the athleticism on tape, his ability to cover in space. He can cover a lot of ground, cover tight ends, cover backs. So he’s an exciting piece to add.”
And Morrow is excited to join a defense that emphasizes speed and discipline.
“His résumé speaks for itself,” Morrow said of Eberflus and his previous work as a defensive coordinator. “It’s in the tape, right? You see what he did in Indy, with the turnovers they had, the defense that they had together, and the staff they put together here.”
Morrow being able to stay healthy and lock down a linebacker spot is extra important, because there isn’t much behind him. The other veteran linebackers the Bears added (Noah Dawkins, Joe Thomas, and Matt Adams) are all known more for their special teams work. They added a trio of undrafted free agent linebackers (Christian Albright, C.J. Avery, and Jack Sanborn), and the only returning off-ball linebacker from a year ago is the unproven Caleb Johnson, who just played 5 snaps on defense.
Roquan doing Roquan things is a given, but Morrow coming through is critical for the defense to come together.