ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Roquan Smith practiced in pads Wednesday for the first time since he played in college football's national championship game Jan. 8. But the rookie linebacker from Georgia hardly looked uncomfortable or out of place.
One day after ending a nearly month-long contract holdout, Smith displayed his sideline-to-sideline speed and instincts throughout a joint practice with the Denver Broncos at their training facility.
"It was just back to normal," Smith said. "It's ball. It's what I've been doing my entire life, so just back out doing what I love.
"It was great just being back out in pads and getting after it and doing a little popping. I felt great. That's the way football is played."
The eighth overall pick in the draft did not appear to get winded at any point while participating in one-on-one, 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills.
"I was just doing what I can, giving my best effort," he said. "I've just got to work myself into the best shape I can work myself into.
"It went very well. I enjoyed it. Being back out in pads and just getting out there with my teammates, it definitely felt great."
Whether filling a gap against the run or dropping into pass coverage, Smith didn't appear to make any significant mental mistakes.
"I remember a lot of the defense," Smith said. "I had my tablet when I was back in Georgia, so I was watching a lot of film and stuff like that. It's not like it's my first time seeing some of the defensive calls."
With the Bears offense and defense facing the Broncos on separate fields Wednesday, it was difficult for coach Matt Nagy to focus on Smith—or any individual player.
"We'll go back tonight and we'll watch the tape and see how he did," Nagy said. "No. 1, mentally, did he do the right stuff? And then we'll talk to him, 'How did you feel? And see how that went. We'll kind of just see if we can maybe sprinkle in possibly the same (workload), maybe a little bit more tomorrow. But he needs to be honest with us on how he was, and then we'll take the defensive coaches and hear where they thought he's at all things considered."
It has yet to be determined whether Smith will play in Saturday night's preseason game against the Broncos. But his teammates were happy to have him back on the practice field Wednesday.
"It definitely gave us a boost," said outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, who played one season with Smith at Georgia. "We've got all our guys here and knowing we can come out together and get better."
"He looked good, first day," added fellow inside linebacker Danny Trevathan. "There's still a lot of stuff to learn with this defense, and linebacker is a tough position in this defense. You have to know a lot, you have to be instinctive and you have to communicate well. I didn't feel a setback from him being gone. It's just catching up, a little bit more catching up, a little more fine-tuning, which is no problem. We've got great vets like myself and coaches."
Trevathan has been impressed with the way Smith has carried himself and the mindset the rookie brings to practice.
"I like the way he keeps a level head and he stays hungry about it," Trevathan said. "We did a good job recruiting that one. Now he's just got to listen and get honed in with me and communicate, and we're going to lock it down."