Although Smith is entering his second season with the Bears, this is his first time prepping for the season in Bourbonnais on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University.
“For Roquan, this whole environment is new,” said coach Matt Nagy, “Where they go to meetings. Where they eat.”
After being selected with the eighth pick in the 2018 draft, Smith missed the entire training camp as contract negotiations carried on. A hamstring injury kept Smith out of the entire preseason.
That missed time did not stop Smith from posting one of the best rookie seasons for a linebacker in recent memory, racking up 121 combined tackles and added five sacks.
For that, adoring fans yell so loudly that Smith had to strain to hear the questions being asked him by reporters. To Smith, that adds to the excitement.
“It definitely changes the atmosphere just being out here in front of the best fans in the nation,” said Smith.
In addition to losing the offseason rust, Smith is working with new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, who replaces Vic Fangio. Smith is confident that it will be a smooth transition.
“It hasn’t been that huge of an adjustment,” said Smith, “At the end of the day ball is ball, and there are only so many calls you can run. The defense is not too complicated, so I don’t look at it as a huge change.”
That will come as some comfort to Bears fans, who watched Smith thrive under Fangio, who accepted the head coaching job for the Denver Broncos in January. Smith was a Pro Bowl alternate and made the All-Rookie team in 2018.
In April, two weeks after Smith’s 22nd birthday, the team honored him as one of two winners of the Brian Piccolo Award. The award is the result of a team vote and focuses on a player’s courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and sense of humor.
Defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, who shared the award with Smith, was a fan of the Georgia product’s performance last year.
“Shoot, I thought he played great last year,” Hicks told reporters Thursday. “I thought he played to a standard that was above and exceeding what you can expect from a rookie linebacker.”
Hicks then adopted a joking tone.
“I don’t know what he’s going to do next. Come and take my job,” said Hicks before later adding, “You know he’s like 19?”
In a more serious tone, fellow linebacker Khalil Mack agreed with Hicks’ assessment of Smith’s future.
“Ultimately, I feel like he can be an All-Pro player,” said Mack, “along with Danny (Trevathan) on the inside. I feel like those two should take over the All-Pro position for this year. You can say that’s a large task for those guys. But I don’t think it will be.”
Smith shied away from such predictions on Saturday after being asked to react to Mack’s compliment.
“That’s high praise,” said Smith, “but I’m just trying to be the best version of myself whether that’s All-Pro or not. So, just come out each and every day and attack my weaknesses. If I get that, I’ll get that. But that’s not my main focus.”