Chicago Bears: Roquan Smith is the next star at inside linebacker

    With all the traits to be the next feared inside linebacker, the Chicago Bears have one of the top candidates to be a breakout star in Roquan Smith.

    The Chicago Bears always seemed to have a dominant player roaming the middle linebacker position. It all started with the tenacious Bill George who bullied offensive players from 1952-1965. Then immediately after stepped in the ferocious Dick Butkus. Butkus owned his era with the Bears from 1965-1973. Then came the guy who took the meaning of intensity to a whole new level. Mike Singletary came in and was the leader of the historic Bears defenses from 1981-1992. Lastly came Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher, who were the most recent dominant inside linebackers.

    Its been a long run of having top-tier cornerstone guys at the ILB position. I’m here to affirm that Roquan Smith is the next franchise guy to dominate his position for the next decade.

    Rookie season

    Being drafted in the Top-10 as an inside linebacker is a rarity. Since 2000, only ten players have been: Urlacher, LaVar Arrington, Ernie Sims, A.J. Hawk, Jerod Mayo, Rolando McClain, Luke Kuechly, and Smith. This year, Devin Smith and Devin Bush Jr join the list. With being a Top-10 draft pick comes high hope. In particular, everyone is expecting you to come in and crush it instantly.

    Unfortunately, Smith had a hiccup with the start of his career. With a contract holdout, Smith missed most of training camp and the entire preseason. After settling his contract issues, he was only able to play eight snaps Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers, which is pretty impressive considering how much time he missed. In the following weeks, he was gradually given more responsibility.

    Ultimately, Roquan didn’t set the world on fire in his first season. He did go on to lead the team in tackles with 121, which was five short of topping Urlacher’s rookie franchise record. On top of that, he had eight tackles for a loss, five sacks, and one interception. Certainly, stats don’t tell the whole story for Roquan’s rookie season, but according to him, year one was just “okay.”

    Coaches giving praise this offseason

    If Smith considers year one just “okay” can you imagine what year two is going to look like with a full training camp and offseason? Chuck Pagano is already praising the second year linebacker. Keep in mind Pagano coached one of the all-time greats, Ray Lewis at the end of his career. Pagano said of Smith: “He’s one of the brightest, smartest guys I’ve been around for just a second-year player.’’

    “He takes everything in. The guy doesn’t make mistakes. Out on the football field he does a lot of things you can’t coach.”

    Smith is on a fast track to becoming a star. His new inside linebacker coach Mark DeLeone is a big believer in him as well, saying he has all the tools needed to become one of the elite players at the ILB position. “He has the tools, all the skill set, and the personality traits to be elite and one of the premier players in his position in the game,” DeLeone said.

    Roquan is next up

    Almost every decade, the Bears have had a cornerstone piece at the inside linebacker position. After a relatively slow start to his rookie season, Roquan ended strong. Turning 22 years old this April and with a full year and offseason under his belt, Roquan will be ready for a big second season. With legendary players ruling the position in the past, I’m feeling confident in saying Smith is on track to be the next big star in the middle for the Blue and Orange.

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