The Bears defense has dealt with its share of struggles through the first five weeks of the season. But the unit is finding ways to rebound, limiting opponents to 26 total points in the second half of games.
Linebacker Roquan Smith said the defensive personnel is still learning how to play with one another early in the season, considering the offseason changes brought about by first-year general manger Ryan Poles. Smith acknowledges the learning curve is not an excuse, but it's a contributing factor to why the defense is still forming its identity.
"I definitely think we're still writing our identity," Smith said. "It's, what, the fifth game? Haven't played even half of the season yet, so I think we're still establishing our identity and I feel like once we get that going and doing things to the best of our ability, I think maybe at the end of the year, we'll definitely know what our identity is."
Smith does know what the components of that identity should be: "Just guys flying around, [hitting] you in the mouth and doing their jobs."
As cohesiveness among the defense continues to progress, Smith sees the unit's potential growing. The All-Pro linebacker believes the Bears have the right players on the field to create success, but now it's about consistency.
"I definitely think we have the guys to do the job, and every job that needs to be done," Smith said. "It's just about honing in each and every play because we've seen that we can do it countless times, over and over again. But it's just about doing it on a consistent basis. And I feel like once we start doing that, the sky's the limit for all of us."
One aspect of the defense that remains a work in progress is how the group starts games. Last Sunday, the Vikings scored 21 points in the first half compared to eight points in the second half, which came in the game's final few minutes.
While the ability to finish games strong has been a positive this season, Smith said faster starts will allow the defense to "see just how good we are."
"Yeah, that's huge, and it's about more so just coming out firing like how we do in the second half with that chip on our shoulder," Smith said. "We have to just start that [way] in the first half because we know what the results say from the second half, and the numbers speak for themselves. It's just about coming out starting hot as opposed to waiting until somebody hits you in the month and then starting."
The one second half score the Bears did allow against Minnesota became the game-winning touchdown after the offense turned the ball over on its final drive. While the defense had "a lot of opportunities to get off the field" on that possession, Smith said they needed big-time players to step up, including himself.
Smith also took accountability for a miscue on Jalen Reagor's 1-yard touchdown in the second quarter. The linebacker relied on a gut feeling about where the Vikings receiver would run, and while Smith was in the right place, he missed the tackle, allowing Reagor to reach the end zone.
While Smith knows he has to make those crucial plays this year "if I want the things that I want," holding himself to a high standard is nothing new.
"I think I always place emphasis, regardless of the year that I'm in, because essentially, we all know it, one-year deal," Smith said. "So, the best year I have, that's how things are going to be at the end of the year, besides some other things that could happen. But I'll get to those things when I do. I'm just trying to control what I can right now, and I'm just trying to be the best linebacker in football every play."