In each of his first two NFL seasons, Bears inside linebacker Roquan Smith has been the leading tackler on a top-10 defense. But as he prepares for Year 3, Smith is convinced that he'll perform at an even higher level in 2020.
"I've got a huge chip on my shoulder," Smith said Wednesday during a video call with the media. "Just really excited … I know my mindset and what I plan to do this upcoming season. If I stay healthy, I definitely feel like it's going to be my best year to date and I'm going to do some things."
Selected by the Bears with the eighth pick in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft out of Georgia, Smith was named a Pro Bowl alternate as a rookie after registering a team-leading 121 tackles, three shy of Hall of Fame middle linebacker Brian Urlacher's franchise record set in 2000.
Smith also recorded five sacks, eight tackles-for-loss, one interception and five pass breakups while playing in all 16 games with 15 starts. He added a second interception in the Bears' wild-card playoff loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Smith again topped the defense in tackles last season with 100 despite missing four games, including the final three contests after sustaining a torn pectoral muscle in a Thursday night win over the Dallas Cowboys.
At the time of his injury, Smith had been playing his best football of the season, producing at least 10 tackles in four of five games, including a career-high 16 stops in a Thanksgiving victory in Detroit. Smith also compiled two sacks and two tackles-for-loss against the Lions, becoming only the third player in NFL history with at least 15 tackles and two sacks in a game.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Smith revealed that he has fully recovered from the surgery he had to repair his chest injury.
"I feel like I'm 100 percent, honestly," Smith said. "Others may have a different opinion, but I definitely feel like I'm 100 percent and I'm excited for where I'm at right now and I feel like I can pretty much do any and everything."
The injury was one issue that created some adversity for Smith last year.
"We all face that at certain points, have highs and lows in life," he said. "It wasn't my best season. So now I'm going into this season planning to make it my best year possible and doing whatever I can and controlling everything that I can control and not worrying about the outside noise."
As a top-10 draft pick, Smith understands why he's expected to become an elite NFL player and remains driven to reach his potential.
"If I'm completely honest, I feel like it's just more so me doing everything to the best of my ability and then everything else will take care of itself: Pro Bowl, all those different things," Smith said. "That's my main thing: coming out and playing to my standard, doing whatever I can to control what I can and not letting up on anything and just being relentless."
Smith is excited about what the Bears defense can accomplish in 2020. He has noticed a sense of urgency and hunger in his teammates throughout the team's virtual offseason program, which concludes Thursday.
"Guys have been in the defense for many years and [are] still attacking every single day like they never heard a certain call," he said. "I just love the way each and every one of us is approaching each and every day like it's our last."
That's certainly the way that Smith is preparing for his third NFL season.
"I definitely feel like I'm in a great place right now, training very hard," he said. "I just feel like I have a lot that I have to live up to myself, my personal goals and then team goals and things of that nature. So I'm definitely just trying to make this year my best year possible, better than any of the other years I've had and just maximize myself because I know Year 3 is a huge year for myself and my career. I've just got to make everything worth it and put it all on the line for myself and my teammates and my family."