Running all over the field in a Zone 2 coverage pattern as a weak side linebacker has Smith as excited as the coaches to see him do it.
“My goal is to be the best linebacker in the league and the best leader I can be for this team and I think if I do that I’ll put us in a great position to be a really good defense,” he said. said Smith.
Smith could play on the weak side or through the middle in this defence, but his speed and ability to attack the ball make him ideal for the weak side. Briggs and Tampa Bay Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks played that position in that scheme.
There are obstacles.
Briggs and Brooks were in their second seasons when new defensive systems were implemented, and both immediately achieved improved stats, but not a spectacular leap. It took a few years for the rest of the team to improve before becoming dominant.
In Smith’s case, he’s already been in the league for four years and played something similar to the old Bears 3-4 defense while at Georgia. This will all be new.
Another factor in Smith’s effectiveness is his linebacker in the scheme.
In this system, it helps the weak side to attack if there is a large supporting midfielder. Briggs had Urlacher and Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl with Shelton Quarles at center linebacker. Quarles made the Pro Bowl in that 2002 Super Bowl season and had a solid 10-year career.
When Eberflus coached linebackers under Rod Marinelli with Dallas, things were less stable.
They couldn’t settle for a weak side. Sean Lee had done it in a similar pattern under Monte Kiffin, then moved on and eventually they had to go back to Lee on the weak side because they didn’t bring another standout.
It took Dallas until Eberflus’ final season there in 2017 before they ramped up the defense into the top 10. Eberflus had much more success when they had that weak side occupied by a big player with the Colts to Darius Leonard, who came via the draft in their first season under coach Frank Reich.
The Bears like to think they have a player who can be an effective midfielder in Nicholas Morrow, as he had done well in a similar system for a brief spell with the Raiders. But no one could call him a great center linebacker. So seeing Smith’s true playing ability at its best might require waiting until the Bears have a center linebacker they’re more sold on than Morrow, who was available to them for just $3 million on a contract. a year.
It’s a defense that needs quick linebackers and Morrow was just a hundredth of a second off Smith’s 40 time when he ran at the combine.
The Bears might find Morrow can’t handle the middle as well as they’d like, but they already know Smith can based on his play as an inside linebacker in Vic’s 3-4 Fangio. Then they could possibly see that Morrow uses his speed better to attack the weak side than as a midfielder. The two could be reversed, in this case.
“Nobody’s defined ‘Hey, you’re the Will (weak side linebacker), you’re the Mike (middle), you’re the Sam (strong side),’ linebackers coach Dave Borgonzi said during OTAs .
Until training camp, at least, Smith approaches this with a singular sense of purpose from the weak side.
“I think that’s a hell of an opportunity to have, you know?” said Smith. “Obviously resetting things and starting from scratch, new faces, new regime, so I think it’s a great opportunity to be the face of the new regime and do whatever it takes to make it happen. do the best diet in Bears history. That’s my plan.”
That’s what the coaching staff would also have in mind.
There are a number of factors to negotiate first, and having Smith in top form was just the start.
Roquan Smith in a nutshell
Vitals: 6 foot 1 inch, 232 pounds, fifth year.
Career: 524 tackles, 348 solo, 43 for loss, 14 sacks, 17 QB hits, 5 interceptions, 17 pass breakups, one forced fumble and one recovery.
2021: 163 tackles, 95 solo, 12 for loss, 3 sacks, one INT, 3 pass breakups.
The number: 6. Smith only missed six tackles last year according to Sportradar. The 3.6% of his failed tackle attempts was his career best.
FanNation 2022 Screening: 165 tackles, 18 for loss, 4 sacks, 2 interceptions, 6 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles.