With the NFL trade deadline behind them, the Chicago Bears returned to practice Wednesday to prepare for Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins at Soldier Field.
Along with welcoming wide receiver Chase Claypool, here are three other things we learned from coach Matt Eberflus and players.
1. Roquan Smith — and his former teammates — are trying to move forward.
Smith told reporters in Baltimore he didn’t expect to be traded, but the fifth-year linebacker seemed OK with joining a 5-3 Ravens team that sits atop the AFC North.
“Initially I was shocked, but I’m excited to be here,” Smith said. “A good group of guys, guys who are contending for a title, and that’s what I’m in the game to play for.
“I have a great deal of respect for this organization and the way they handle things. I’m excited and know they’re trying to get over the hump and win the big game. I feel like I’m one of the guys that can help with that. “
Smith wasn’t the only one who was shocked.
Bears safety Eddie Jackson said he was in disbelief. Cornerback Jaylon Johnson said his first reaction was “WTF?” Linebacker Nicholas Morrow, who had been Smith’s teammate for only a few months, called him “the heart and soul of this locker room,” noting his ability to pull players together — and how quiet it was without him.
General manager Ryan Poles and Eberflus met with the 13-player Bears leadership council to explain the moves. Quarterback Justin Fields said the meeting helped get everybody on the same page, and Jackson said it was needed.
“There are a lot of things that start floating around, especially in the locker room, like, ‘They don’t take care of their guys,’ or, ‘They don’t care about their guys,’ or whatever the case may be,” Jackson said. “That was pretty cool for them to come and talk to us as men. We get the business part of this. We respect that. But we like to be respected as men and football players as well.”
Defensive tackle Justin Jones, who was named a captain to replace Smith, said the players are committed to playing hard despite losing one of their best players.
“It hurt that we lost him, but at the end of the day, we all have a job to do,” Jones said. “And a lot of guys on this team have families. And so when you say waving the white flag on the season, that’s almost like saying waving the white flag on your families. You can’t do that, man.
“These guys are my family. I’m their family. And nobody is waving the white flag on anybody. We’re going to play just as hard as if they were with us.”
2. Matt Eberflus noted one potential reason for the gap in perceived value between Smith and the team.
Eberflus said the Bears wanted Smith back next year and echoed Poles’ comments that the team and Smith simply couldn’t find common ground on contract extension numbers.
When Eberflus was in Indianapolis, the Colts signed linebacker Shaquille Leonard to a five-year, $98 million extension. When pressed on why Smith wasn’t as valuable to the Bears defense as Leonard was to the Colts, Eberflus pointed to specific stats.
“We always base things on numbers and production, and we covet ball production in that position,” Eberlus said. “So that right there is a very important thing that the Will linebacker needs to do. Again, we loved Roquan. We made him an offer and they couldn’t find common ground.”
In his first three seasons before signing the extension, Leonard had seven interceptions and nine forced fumbles. He added four interceptions and eight forced fumbles last year and has one pick this season for a total of 12 interceptions and 17 forced fumbles. Through 4½ seasons, Smith has seven interceptions and one forced fumble.
The Bears have a big hole to fill at weak-side linebacker without Smith, who had 83 tackles, four tackles for a loss, 2½ sacks, three passes defended and two interceptions this season.
Eberflus said the Bears would use a rotation in practice to determine who will start. Options include veteran Joe Thomas, rookie Jack Sanborn and newcomer A.J. Klein, a 10-year veteran who joined the Bears in the Smith trade.
“Obviously you have a player that has been leading the NFL in tackles, I’m not sure that you do replicate that,” Eberflus said. “But you shift guys around and put guys in place and next man up. It’s going to be good for that linebacker room getting experience, getting some playing time.”
Morrow, who was on the Raiders team that traded Khalil Mack to the Bears in 2018, said of finding a replacement: “It’s one of those things that naturally happens over the course of the year.”
3. Left guard Cody Whitehair entered his 21-day window to return from injured reserve, but there are several unknowns on the offensive line.
Whitehair suffered a knee injury Oct. 2 against the New York Giants, and veteran Michael Schofield started in his place the last two games.
Eberflus said “we’ll see” when asked if Whitehair could be ready to play Sunday.
“He’s in a good spot mentally,” Eberflus said. “He has been working his tail off with the guys in the rehab. His strength numbers are good. His jump numbers are good. His velocity and speed in his jumps are good. We think he is going to be good.”
The Bears have other questions, though, as right tackle Larry Borom — who sat out Sunday’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys with a concussion — missed practice Wednesday and right guard Teven Jenkins was limited with a back injury.
Jackson and cornerback Kyler Gordon were limited with hip injuries.
Wide receiver Byron Pringle, who played in three games this season before suffering a calf injury, is in the second week of his 21-day window to return from IR.