One is an ascending young star who's performing like the Bears envisioned when they spent a top-10 draft pick on him. The other is a seasoned veteran and Super Bowl champion who remains a talented and productive playmaker.
Together, Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan form a dynamic tandem at inside linebacker, fueling a Bears defense that ranks near the top of the NFL in most key statistical categories. Smith leads the unit with 83 tackles, while Trevathan is second with 56.
Selected by the Bears with the eighth overall choice in the 2018 draft, Smith is more than justifying his status as a top pick. Taking his game to the next level in his third season, the former Georgia star leads the NFL with 62 solo tackles and is tied for second with 12 tackles-for-loss. Smith has also excelled in pass coverage. Among linebackers who have been targeted at least 30 times this year, he tops the NFL in opponent completion percentage (58.5) and ranks third in passer rating allowed (63.3).
"What's not to appreciate? Everything," said defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. "Mostly from Year 1 to 2 to now, his preparation, his leadership has been off the charts. The guy watches a ton of film. When we hit the practice field and walk-throughs, he's like a magpie out there. He's always talking, he sets the front, he makes all the checks, communicates so well, he's in constant with the front, he's in constant with the back end. He just gets everybody on the same page.
"He and Danny are playing at a high level. But it's in his preparation. And all of that is showing up on game day because he's able to go out there, play fast and just let his God-given talents and instincts take over."
With Smith's talent, athleticism and mentality, the Bears expect the 6-foot, 230-pounder to keep improving.
"I think this is just an ascending player that is going to do nothing but get better and grow mentally," Pagano said. "He's going to keep sharpening his sword every single day that he walks in this building. With the level of play comes confidence, and that's at a high level right now. His confidence is off the charts. I just think you're going to see a guy continue to progress and play really, really well."
Last Sunday, Smith helped the defense play arguably its best game of the season in Tennessee. Entering the contest, Titans running back Derrick Henry led the NFL in rushing and Ryan Tannehill had the highest passer rating (109.8) of any quarterback the Bears have faced this season.
But Smith recorded a team-high 11 tackles, one sack and two tackles-for-loss as the Bears held Henry to 68 yards on 21 carries and Tannehill completed only 10 of 21 passes for 158 yards.
"[Smith] plays every play like his hair is on fire," said inside linebackers coach Mark DeLeone. "I think he plays like a crazed dog. He's out there and he's competing every single day, and I'm really proud of him. He plays hard. And when you play hard, you make those types of plays."
Trevathan, meanwhile, has experienced a midseason resurgence after struggling at times in pass coverage early in the year. The nine-year NFL veteran—a Super Bowl-winner with the Broncos in 2015—made a play last Sunday that his coaches and teammates are still talking about.
Streaking deep down the field stride-for-stride with speedy Titans receiver Corey Davis early in the fourth quarter, Smith turned his head and broke up the well-thrown pass like an All-Pro cornerback.
"We call that pass play breakup to '84' down the sideline the 'oh expletive' pass," Pagano said. "It begins with 's' and ends with 't,' because right when you see it start to develop you're like, 'Oh … you know.' And there you see him go chase that guy down and you get the ball off Davis. I mean, phenomenal play. He's ascending big-time right now."
"Covering the guy is one thing," DeLeone added. "But when you're running 45 yards downfield with a really fast receiver like '84' is, I thought Danny's finish on that play was special. And it was a big play. I mean, it was a huge play in the game. That was just [a] really good [job] sniffing it out and [making] a good play right there, and then great effort at the end."
Trevathan also played a major role in the Bears containing Henry. He limited the bruising running back to gains of 1 and 2 yards with solo tackles in the first quarter and later teamed with Akiem Hicks to drop Henry for no gain on a fourth-quarter rush.
The Bears will face another huge test Monday night against the Vikings. Minnesota's offense features NFL leading rusher Dalvin Cook, who has compiled 478 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns in his last two games. Led by Smith and Trevathan, the defense ranks seventh in the NFL in points, ninth in yards and first in third-down efficiency and red-zone touchdown percentage.
"Mark DeLeone does a great job coaching those guys," Pagano said. "That combo right now is really, really good."
"I just love watching them play," DeLeone added. "When they step in between those white lines, they play with passion and energy and juice."