Roquan Smith racked up a career high 13 tackles in the Bears’ blowout win over the Buffalo Bills, which on the surface looked like the best game of the rookie’s career.
His position coach, though, had a different thought on his pupil’s productive afternoon.
“I don’t know if he’s had a complete, best game yet,” inside linebackers coach Glenn Pires said. “I think the process is still going. He’s learning, he’s hard on himself, as I am, and it’s all about the consistency. The flashes are okay, but the consistency, that’s the key.”
The Bears are seeing growth from Smith, but he hasn’t played like the defensive rookie of the year candidate some pegged him to be prior to the season. He’s missed eight tackles — one per game, which includes his minimal use in Week 1 — and is averaging 7.1 tackles per miss, according to Pro Football Focus. Danny Trevathan, comparatively, is averaging 15.3 tackles per miss, one of the better averages in the NFL.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, though, is seeing Smith make improvements given where he started — or, more accurately, didn’t start the season.
“You gotta remember the guy missed all of training camp, got no preseason reps so he’s a guy that should steadily improve week to week and he has been,” Fangio said.
Smith, specifically, has made strides in run defense — specifically, being where he needs to be and using his speed and physicality to bring down opposing running backs. That’s how he was able to rack up those 13 tackles against the Bills. His speed, instincts and physicality all showed up when he, after blitzing up the middle, sprinted to the sideline to help Eddie Jackson force a fumble the safety returned for a touchdown on Sunday.
But the Bears want to see Smith do better in pass defense. Nathan Peterman hit the longest completion of his career when tight end Jason Croom ran across Smith’s face and beat him to the edge for a 26-yard gain on Sunday, a play Pires said can be corrected with Smith having better leverage and tackling better, too.
Those are the areas in which the Bears need to see Smith improve over the season’s final eight games. He has the effort, athleticism, football I.Q. and drive to be a great player — which is why he was the eighth overall pick — but if he can put it all together this year, it’ll provide a nice boost for the Bears’ chances of making a legitimate run at the playoffs.
“I feel like I’m doing pretty solid,” Smith said. “There’s always room for improvement and trying to get up on my weaknesses and my mistakes that I make week in and week out, just try to eliminate those and strive for perfection, even though that’s not possible, just getting better each and every day.”