The Bears will need Roquan Smith against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
Finally the camp-long nightmare has come to an end. The eighth overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft has signed his contract with the Bears after a nearly 30-day holdout. Missing nearly all of training camp would typically be enough to rule out a rookie from making an impact in Week One, but don’t be surprised if that’s not the case on the evening of September 9th. While the situation has been far from ideal, a player of Smith’s caliber and skill set should still figure into the Bears’ immediate plans.
Rodgers’ ability to move and make pinpoint throws in the middle of the field make having an athletic inside linebacker a must. It’s why Rodgers calls Brian Urlacher the best defender he ever faced, it’s why Smith was the pick and it’s why they double-dipped taking Joel Iyiegubuniwe in the fourth round.
The plan was for Smith to start Week One. That should still be in play but it’s hard to see the team giving the rookie the nod over Nick Kwiatkoski after the third-year linebacker has, by most accounts, played well in camp. It was to the point that the Bears didn’t even play Kwiatkoski in the first preseason game and he saw very limited action in the second. A bigger issue is that they can’t sell the first few weeks of camp as actually being important if a guy who has never played in the NFL doesn’t need them to be ready to face Rodgers.
Regardless of how well he has played in practice, Kwiatkoski has significant flaws. While many have pointed to his training camp interceptions, anyone who has spent too much time watching camp clips on Twitter has also seen several times in which the Bears got the better of Kwiatkoski. They’ve attacked him in practice, just as opposing teams did in games last year. The Bears actually took him off the field on passing downs in favor of Christian Jones late in the season. Maybe Kwiatkoski has improved in coverage, but it’s unlikely he’s going to cease being a liability there and Roquan figures to be among the elite coverage backers in the entire league.
So, back to the Packers and Week One.
Forget, for a second, the traits Rodgers has that gives defensive coordinators nightmares. The Packers want to attack the middle of the field. It’s why they made Jimmy Graham the league’s highest-paid tight end then grabbed Marcedes Lewis, while still paying Lance Kendricks $2 million. They also figure to be using running backs Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones more, although the latter won’t be playing in the opener.
And, of course, when they aren’t able to throw it, Rodgers can run. Kwiatkoski isn’t athletic enough to keep up, but Smith is a laser. If the rookie is what the Bears think he is, he’s going to eliminate the middle of the field and chase down quarterbacks when they try to run. He’s the perfect weapon against quarterbacks like Rodgers.
Nothing against Kwiatkoski, he can still play on early downs, but he’s not special and his biggest weakness is really important. Expect Roquan to rotate in a lot in Week One (at least half the snaps) and before the first quarter of the season ends (apologies for the Lovieism), Smith will be the starter. If not sooner. Way sooner.
There is no question if Smith should play against the Packers. Because the Bears will need him.