Roquan Smith is back to playing like Roquan Smith, and that's excellent news for the Bears defense.
The second-year inside linebacker has reached double digits in tackles in each of the last three games and delivered his most impressive performance of the season in last Sunday night's loss to the Rams.
Playing with urgency and emotion, Smith led the Bears with 11 tackles, recorded his team's only interception and made a key tackle-for-loss.
"He played a whale of a game, a really good football game," said defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. "He played fast, he was decisive, he was physical, played with emotion, played with fire and did a lot of great things."
Smith started the season strong, registering 13 tackles in a Week 2 win in Denver. But he missed a Week 4 victory over the Vikings due to an undisclosed personal issue and then averaged just seven tackles in his next four games. Since that lull, he's compiled 10, 11 and 11 tackles in his last three outings.
"He started fast and had the one or two games where he just wasn't himself for whatever reason and now he's back doing this," Pagano said. "I just told him [Wednesday] that I've watched his preparation, his practice, his attention to detail in meetings … and I told him he's doing a great job at everything—the meetings and the walkthroughs and certainly practice. Usually when that happens—you do well during the week—chances are you're going to play well."
If Smith looked like he was thoroughly enjoying himself while playing against the Rams, it's because he was.
"I'm definitely having fun, living a dream," said Smith, who was selected by the Bears with the eighth overall pick in last year's draft. "I know a lot of people would kill to be in the position that I'm in as well as my peers. So just thinking about that and it just gives you some perspective. You love it and the game has done a lot for me, so I can't help but be grateful for it."
Smith produced his first impact play in the first quarter last Sunday night in Los Angeles, drifting toward the sideline and intercepting a Jared Goff pass. The Georgia product held onto the ball despite getting jostled by teammate Kyle Fuller.
"I [went] back to my receiver days in high school or something," said Smith, "catching in traffic a little bit."
After a Bears touchdown cut the Rams' lead to 10-7 midway through the third quarter, Smith dropped running back Todd Gurley for a one-yard loss on a crucial third-and-one play, forcing Los Angeles to punt.
"I was just trying to go out and carry out the game plan," Smith said, "try to control the controllables and do the things that I can and anything actually to help our ballclub."
Smith's productive performance wasn't enough to prevent the Bears from losing for the fifth time in six games, and that left a bitter taste in his mouth.
"I wouldn't say [it was] necessarily my best game," Smith said. "I felt like I played pretty solid but still not [up to] the standard; [we] did not get a win, so that's the thing. That's what we're graded on around here. That was not the standard. We've just got to find a way to get better."
The Bears moved inside for practice Thursday at Halas Hall as they prepare to return to Soldier Field and play the New York Giants.