How will the Roquan Smith situation be resolved? Would Will Fuller be a good fit at WR? – The Denver Post



The Chicago Bears open the preseason in three days against the Kansas City Chiefs at Soldier Field. Linebacker Roquan Smith won’t be in uniform as he continues his hold-in — now with a trade request.

Smith’s situation, naturally, is the top question in Brad Biggs’ weekly Bears mailbag.

How will the Roquan Smith situation be resolved? — Stan K., Cedarburg, Wis.

My crystal ball is in the shop getting a tune-up for the regular season, so I can’t use it to answer this question. I will say that as often as a trade request results in an actual trade, there are just as many instances — probably more — when a trade request is simply a tactic in a protracted negotiation. If I had to venture a guess, I think the Bears will wind up reaching an extension agreement with Smith.

Trading Smith right now would be especially difficult. In a more typical situation in which a player requests a trade, the team might grant the player and his agent permission to seek one. That would involve the agent calling other teams and saying: “Hey, the Bears are willing to trade my client. I think they are seeking roughly (fill in the blank) in terms of compensation. What would you be willing to pay my client in a new contract?” Interested teams then could negotiate a contract with the agent, and that could lead to a trade being completed.

If you’re looking for an example of such a trade around this time of year, go back to July 2011 when the Bears traded tight end Greg Olsen to the Carolina Panthers. His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, received permission to shop for a trade and sent a mass email to the other 31 teams, writing: “The Bears have granted me permission to seek a trade for Greg Olsen. Please let me know if interested. Sounds like the Bears will be very reasonable on the compensation in return for Greg.”

That kind of scenario becomes more complex for Smith, who is operating without an agent. It also doesn’t sound like the Bears are interested in granting Smith permission to seek a trade, which his camp would require to have any contact with other teams.

“Right now, my intentions are to sign Roquan to this team,” general manager Ryan Poles said after practice Tuesday. “And we’re going to take it day by day. At the end of the day we’ve got to do what’s best for this organization. But my intentions are to make sure Roquan Smith’s on this team.”

Smith clearly is miffed with the status of negotiations, and it’s apparent the sides are not near a deal. If the Bears were willing to make Smith one of the top-paid linebackers in the NFL, my hunch is he already would be signed and on the practice field, not on the physically unable to perform list.

As I have written previously, I can see both sides of this situation. From Smith’s perspective, he has played excellent football for four seasons and feels it is time to get the security that comes with a second contract. If Poles wants to see Smith play a new position in a new scheme for a new coaching staff before he commits top-of-the-market money to a player he inherited, I can understand that as well.

I called an executive with another team. He has nothing to do with the Smith situation, but I wanted to pick his brain about the Bears’ dilemma.

“He’s a good stack linebacker,” he told me. “He’s not a top-five linebacker for me. Not right now anyway. If I was the GM or coach, I would say: ‘We want you on this football team. We think you have a bright future on this team. But we have to see you play in this defense first before we start talking about a contract. If you go out there and make plays and you become Shaquille Leonard, we’re going to pay you. This is a new team. New system. New way of doing things. We can’t give you money based on where someone else drafted you and for what you did on tape in another system.’

“My top five stack linebackers? Shaq Leonard, Fred Warner, Demario Davis, Micah Parsons and I still love Lavonte David. I thought De’Vondre Campbell was better than Roquan last year. He made more plays. Better player? I don’t know. Roquan has better traits (than Campbell), and that’s what you get into. In terms of the traits perspective, Roquan is the guy everyone in the NFL is looking for off the ball. He is a three-down player. He has coverage traits. You can scheme him as a blitzer and he’s got ridiculous pursuit speed. He’s got every trait you want. The thing you wonder about … is he a game changer? He might be in this scheme. He hasn’t played in it yet.”

After Smith’s statement to NFL Media on Tuesday morning, maybe the sides will take a little break and re-engage in the near future. I’m positive Poles would like to keep negotiations private. Smith has made his point. He’s unhappy with the team’s offers. Will the Bears reshape a contract proposal to close the gap? We’ll have to wait and see.

Keep in mind that not only is Smith under contract for this season, the Bears could use the franchise tag on him in 2023. That provides the team with leverage in negotiations. At some point Smith will have to end his “hold-in” because he can’t afford not to play in regular-season games.

Even without the crystal ball, I think a deal gets done, but the only certainties right now are Smith is irked and Poles is holding brief, impromptu Q&As he would like to avoid.

I have a question about training camp. How does any coach get a handle on how well the team is playing when all the practices are the Bears practicing against each other? If Justin Fields throws several picks during the practice, does that mean the defense is playing great or Fields and his receivers are having an off day? Conversely, if the offense, and Fields in particular, have great days and multiple deep hits, does that mean the offense is rocking and the defense is weak? How do coaches, outside of preseason game competition, evaluate a team when the success of one side means failure for the other? — David K.

Good question. I think the coaches are looking for tempo, the energy level of practice and execution within the structure of the scheme. That tells the staff if the offense or defense is playing well in practice. A guy making a play in practice — for the defense or the offense — is what it is. You want to see it happen on both sides of the ball, and you want to see them make plays within the structure of the offense or defense using the techniques that the new staff has drilled and coached.

When you go through training camp, there will be offensive days and defensive days that stand out. What the coaches want to see is progression and whether players are improving within the structure and using what they are taught. That’s how the coaching staff judges development and progress.

In a column last week, you quoted Matt Eberflus as saying it “creates more gaps in the running game when you have that lead back in there.” I wasn’t sure exactly what this meant. Why does having the extra player “create more gaps”? Don’t the players have to cover the same number of gaps regardless? Can you explain? — Tom S., Chicago

Let’s say, for example, the Bears run power or lead through the C gap. With a fullback on the field, the offense is getting an extra player to the second level and it creates another gap because now the defense needs two linebackers (or one and a safety) attacking the back. One has to hammer the back and the other has to spill the play. In essence, the fullback creates leverage advantages for the offense and a plus-one number through the gap leading to the second level. I hope that makes sense.

What do you expect from Equanimeous St. Brown, seeing that he is doing great in training camp? — @dabearsprod

I am interested to see what St. Brown can do and wrote back in the spring that he was an intriguing addition because of his size (6-foot-5, 214 pounds), speed, catch radius and previous experience with offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. St. Brown needed to get acclimated to a new team and new teammates, but he was able to get up to speed probably faster than others because of his time with Getsy in Green Bay.

I think St. Brown is intriguing, but I have no idea what to expect. He needs to remain healthy — injuries hampered him at times with the Packers — and be consistent. We should keep in mind the Packers were in serious need of wide receivers entering this offseason and didn’t keep St. Brown, who began last season on the practice squad. I’m also not sure anyone involved in the passing game has been “doing great in training camp.”

If St. Brown is healthy, he has the potential to be a big-play threat. That’s something he has yet to do in his career. A fresh start elsewhere was probably the best thing for him. Like a lot of other players on the roster, this is a prove-it season for St. Brown, who signed a one-year, $965,000 contract.

Wouldn’t Will Fuller be a perfect fit for the Bears, especially considering how the wide receiver group has been thinned out by injuries? — Harold, Beverly

There have been many questions about the possibility of the Bears adding the free agent and former first-round pick of the Houston Texans. If the Bears needed a vertical stretch player in the offense, that would make more sense to me. I think Darnell Mooney is that player in this offense and is still an ascending player. If there were an accomplished, big-body possession receiver on the market, that might be a better fit.

Adding Fuller would give the Bears more explosive-play ability, but he has major availability concerns. He missed 15 games last season after suffering a broken thumb. He served a six-game suspension in 2020 for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Before that, a torn ACL and broken collarbone sidelined him.

The Bears have been hit with injuries in camp, but N’Keal Harry (left ankle) and David Moore, who was carted off the field Tuesday at Soldier Field, were not locks to make this roster. Rookie Velus Jones Jr. remains sidelined with an undisclosed injury, but coach Matt Eberflus has maintained it’s not a long-term concern.

Are any of the Bears rookies in danger of not making the roster? Haven’t heard much about Elijah Hicks in training camp. — @drew0131

I’m assuming you mean rookie draft picks and not just rookies in general. I don’t know if “danger” is a good word to use here either. General manager Ryan Poles wheeled and dealed his way into having 11 draft picks. Eight of those picks came in the final 94 selections. It’s a little unrealistic to believe all 11 draftees will be on the 53-man roster in Week 1, especially when you consider the Bears used four of those late picks on offensive linemen. I would guess they will keep nine offensive linemen, and having nearly half of them be rookies is unlikely.

That doesn’t mean the Bears don’t believe their draft picks have a chance to compete and develop, and most or all who get released could be offered a spot on the practice squad. In terms of Hicks, the former Cal safety has looked solid. He moves well and has taken advantage of his opportunities after an undisclosed injury sidelined him for the entirety of the offseason program. Let’s see how he looks in the preseason and what roles he could play on special teams.

Who do you think will be starting opening day for the secondary? — @kobebeardown

Good question. Jaylon Johnson is a clear starter at cornerback, and Eddie Jackson and rookie Jaquan Brisker appear locked in at safety. Questions remain as to how the team will deploy second-round pick Kyler Gordon, who has worked on the outside and at nickel corner when he has been on the field during training camp. Gordon has been sidelined of late, but considering coach Matt Eberflus hasn’t provided an explanation for his absence, we’re led to believe it’s not something that will linger. It should be noted Gordon was sidelined for a good portion of the offseason program, but there’s no question he has flashed when he has participated this summer.

The coaching staff has used Kindle Vildor with the starters on the outside when Gordon has been at nickel. Complicating things is that a good handful of cornerbacks have been out recently. Gordon, Vildor, Thomas Graham, Duke Shelley and Tavon Young were all missing recently. Young is an experienced slot cornerback, but he has a lot of injury history. Graham likely will get to show what he can do in the slot when he’s healthy. Gordon definitely will be in the starting mix — it’s just a question of where and who else the coaches choose. Right now, Vildor might be the best guess.

Any word on who the next defensive tackle is behind Justin Jones? I’m hearing a lot about edge defenders looking solid in camp and Jones looking good, but has anyone else stood out? — Andre C.

Good observation regarding Jones. He has done a nice job of getting into the backfield on a regular basis. He needs to do that in the season because the three technique is the motor that makes a Tampa-2 scheme run.

Mario Edwards Jr. looks like the top reserve at that position, and as you might recall from when Tommie Harris played for the Bears, they will need to rotate regularly. Edwards, 28, has some scheme versatility and I think he will be OK getting reps here. He had a solid season for the Bears in 2020, when he had four sacks, seven quarterback hits and six tackles for a loss. That earned him a three-year, $11.66 million contract.

Edwards didn’t play to that level last season, but this is a tough position to fill and I think he will be good enough in a rotation. The Bears likely will want to find some front-line help for the defensive line in the next offseason.

Who has been the best linebacker in Roquan Smith’s absence? — @bsolesky

Nicholas Morrow looks like he will be a really good fit for this defense. He moves well and plays with range, and watching him on the practice field, it’s clear why the Las Vegas Raiders felt their nickel defense took a hit when Morrow was lost to an injury last season. He should be a solid three-down player.

Joe Thomas has stood out as well, showing a real nose for the ball. While Matt Adams, who played for Matt Eberflus with the Indianapolis Colts, probably is the leader in the clubhouse to start on the strong side, Thomas clearly has the ability and versatility to back up multiple positions. He’s a core special teams player and has been effective with expanded reps as Smith sits out.

“I heard Nick (Morrow) mention the other day in his conference the reason why Matt’s here is because he understands the defense, because he plays with high tempo, because he’s physical,” defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. “And then Thomas, he stands out because he’s leading the group in turnovers. We keep track of how many guys have intercepted the ball, how many balls you’ve knocked out, how many scoop and scores, and he’s leading the group. So those two guys are standouts right now.”

Are the injuries in camp part of football or happening because of a tougher camp run by a rookie coach? — @gucasliogito

I don’t think so. When 90 guys are playing football — especially in pads — injuries will happen. Some years there are more, some years not as many. I’d also point out that Matt Eberflus’ camp is not quite like the team experienced under Lovie Smith or Dick Jauron in a different era with different practice rules in the collective bargaining agreement. Eberflus is pushing the players, no question, and says he doesn’t believe they can “live soft and play hard.” Reality is they don’t have a high number of serious injuries to front-line players at this point.

How has Trenton Gill looked? — @cartortus

The rookie punter from North Carolina State looks to have a strong leg, and the Bears clearly believe in him because there is no competition for the job on the roster. Gill probably understands he’s competing for a role every day, though, because that might be the most easily changed position for any team. I want to see how he performs in live preseason action.

Will N’Keal Harry still make the team injured? — @kapgunzz89

Good question. That probably depends on how the Bears feel about the wide receivers they have at the end of the preseason and what they thought of Harry before he went down with the high left ankle sprain. I did not view him as a lock to make the roster when the Bears traded a 2024 seventh-round pick to the New England Patriots for him. Keep in mind the Bears would have to carry him on the initial 53-man roster if they want to then shift him to injured reserve and bring him back when he’s healthy. If they placed him on IR before roster cuts, he would not be eligible to be designated to return.

How do you think the starting offensive line will look on Saturday? — Double D, Chicago

Based on what we have seen most recently in camp, it sure looks like the coaching staff is eager to see what rookie fifth-round pick Braxton Jones can do at left tackle. He has been getting the bulk of the work with the ones with Cody Whitehair alongside him at left guard, Sam Mustipher at center, Michael Schofield at right guard and Riley Reiff at right tackle.

We’ll have to see how many front-line defensive players the Kansas City Chiefs have on the field, but Saturday’s game should offer a glimpse of what this group can do. I’m also interested to see how Teven Jenkins performs, assuming he gets some action, most likely at right tackle. Keep an eye on Larry Borom, too, because he could push for a starting spot with a strong showing.

How long do you believe Matt Eberflus will leave starters in against the Chiefs? — Soroush K., Naperville

Coaches generally keep that kind of information close to the vest, mostly because I think they have a range in mind. For the sake of discussion, let’s say Eberflus is thinking about 12 to 15 snaps for his starters. Well, if the offense takes seven plays to go roughly 70 yards and score on its first possession, that’s a great point to end their day. Pull out the first unit after a productive drive.

Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell said he wants to play his starters about one quarter Monday. New York Jets coach Robert Saleh talked about a series or two for his front-line guys. Back in 2018, the Bears had five preseason games with the Hall of Fame Game, and coach Matt Nagy, in his first season, pretty much kept starters out of that game. In the regular first week of the preseason, quarterback Mitch Trubisky and the starting offensive line got 10 snaps.

More coaches have gone away from playing starters, especially veterans, in the preseason. We’ll see what Eberflus does Saturday and then how his strategy evolves in future years.

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