Roquan Smith didn’t start Sunday, but he finished.
When the Bears needed their defense most — up six on the Packers with about two-and-a-half minutes to play — Smith, not starter Nick Kwiatkoski, took the field.
The rookie played for the drive’s first two downs before the Bears replaced him with a cornerback in dime coverage — and immediately gave up a 75-yard touchdown to Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb.
Still, Smith’s presence during the game’s most critical drive was proof that — despite Smith playing only eight snaps — Bears consider him ready for prime time.
Smith’s snap count should skyrocket Monday against the Seahawks, even if he didn’t want to speculate about it Wednesday.
“Just, really, (give) 100 percent effort and do everything to the best of my ability, and I feel like everything else will take care of itself …” he said.
“Whatever coach feels like is best for me as far as playing time-wise, if it’s one quarter or an entire game, whatever that may be, I’m just with it.”
Earlier this week, inside linebackers coach Glenn Pires said Smith was tuned in on the sideline during Sunday’s game after making strides since returning from a tight left hamstring. Smith missed the first 29 days of training camp because of a contract standoff and hurt his hamstring during his second practice. He didn’t practice in full again until last week.
“All I’m going to say on that is, he’s on the right track,” he said. “Had a good week last week, had a good start and we’re just gonna build from there.”
How fast can they build? Smith would provide the Bears a burst of athleticism against Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who, like Rodgers, is known for extending plays with his feet. The Bears drafted Smith No. 8 overall because of his sideline-to-sideline speed and his ability to play pass coverage.
The Bears like Smith as a pass rusher, too, and will scheme ways to get them matched up against a pass-blocking running back. That’s what happened Sunday, when, on his first snap, Smith blitzed and collided with Ty Montgomery, knocking the running back down. He sacked DeShone Kizer only after the quarterback slipped away from a diving Khalil Mack.
It was the first tackle Smith had attempted since Georgia’s national title game in January.
“It was awesome — you know, first snap, actually having a sack,” Smith said.
The Bears were concerned about Smith’s stamina, but he said that he felt “great” in admittedly limited action. The game didn’t feel that different from college, either.
“Obviously people are bigger and a little faster — and I guess the mental side of things — but other than that, I don’t really see any really crazy differences … ” he said.
“From the little experience I do have, I just feel like it’s just ball — just on a different level.”
Smith has worked hard since he ended his standoff, safety Eddie Jackson said, but coaches “just want him to learn his playbook and he’ll play more.”
Smith, though, said he felt comfortable in the huddle against the Packers.
“I knew the game plan going into the game so I felt like I can do that to the best of my ability,” he said. “And I pretty much knew everything so it wasn’t anything where I was like, ‘Oh I don’t know what to do in these cases and scenarios.’”
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