The last time media was in the Bears locker room—during the 2019 season before COVID-19 restrictions—linebacker Roquan Smith was just emerging as a young talent on the defense, still learning behind veterans Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and Danny Trevathan. Three years later, Smith is the established pro his young teammates look up to.
"It's definitely a transition," Smith said. "But that's been a transition throughout my time here as the years went on. Almost seemed like it fell in my hands in a sense, but not fell in my hand, because I busted my ass to be in this position. It's an honor and I take great pride in it."
Smith has become more vocal, speaking up when he needs to, but his personality hasn't changed through the years. It's what makes him the guy his teammates lean on for both football and life advice.
"Just being an ear for the guys when the guys are down about certain situations or something," Smith said. "Maybe a play, maybe something going on in their personal life they want to just talk about it, and not talk about it with a lot of the guys. I feel like I'm kind of that shoulder that a lot of the young guys, guys my age come to me and just chop it up with me. I take a great deal of respect in that, and I love being that guy."
The veteran's leadership on the field is even more noticeable. Even when Smith wasn't practicing due to contract negotiations, teammates still felt his presence from the sideline.
Smith rejoined practice a week and a half ago and has been excited to work with the new defense. While coach Matt Eberflus' 4-3 defense is new to Smith, there hasn't been a learning curve. The linebacker is confident he can "flourish in any defense."
The best part about the new scheme is the space Smith gets. He said playing in space and his field vision are two of his best attributes, and Eberflus' defense amplifies those traits.
For a second year in a row, the Bears have partnered with ATHLiTACOMiCS (started by Bears alum Israel Idonije) to create "Monsters of the Midway" trading cards, an expansion of the original campaign that launched in 2018 and melded the world of comics and sports. Through the collaboration, the Bears and Idonije's team created an alternate universe where current and former players are depicted as superheroes that have their own unique power, which play off their natural skillsets on the field.
Smith has also enjoyed playing next to middle linebacker Nicholas Morrow – a fifth-year player who came to Chicago from the Raiders. While a national audience might not be familiar with Morrow now, Smith believes they soon will be.
"[If] we stay healthy man, I think the sky's the limit for both of us," Smith said. "The guy's a really smart player, busts his ass day in and day out, says all the right things, does all the right things, and it's an honor to be able to play next to him. I think we're both gonna make each other better. He covers my tail on certain things, and I get him on certain things. Man, it's sweet. Then, playing with another fast guy, two fast ILBs."
While Smith spent most of training camp out of practice, he said the contract negotiations are not on his mind anymore. He doesn't want to look too far into the future regarding potential deals following this season. Instead, Smith is focusing on being back on the field with his teammates, preparing for Week 1 and working to make 2022 "the best year I can."
"It feels amazing being out there with my guys," Smith said. "That's who you do it for, the love of the game, the guys in this locker room and everybody that supports me. It feels good to just be out there playing the game that you love [because it's] done so much for me."