BOURBONNAIS -- Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio isn’t going to get much of a look at any of his starters in Thursday night’s Hall of Fame Game, which kicks off the preseason, and he won’t get to see unsigned first-round pick Roquan Smith in uniform at all.
But that doesn’t mean the contest vs. the Ravens will be a complete waste of time. Players battling for roster spots will have more than enough time to make their cases.
“The preseason and training camp are all about preparing your team for the season,” said Fangio, who is in his fourth season running the Bears’ defense. “Part of preparing your team for the season is making sure you pick the right 53 guys. We’re heavy into evaluation in this (first) game; more so than evaluating scheme. We want to see these guys play, and then repeat that the next week and get this team ready for the regular season.”
The longer the rookie Smith remains out of camp, the less chance he’ll be ready for the Sept. 9 opener, a lamentable and avoidable situation. Fangio isn’t happy with the lack of progress, but he considers discussions involving the contract stalemate above his pay grade.
“I’m always concerned about everything,” Fangio said. “But great ones adjust. We’ll adjust. Obviously it’s not advantageous to anybody that he’s not here, and I’ll just leave it at that. Talk to (GM) Ryan (Pace) and his salary-cap guys about that.”
Smith could have already become a helpful addition to a defense that has only recently welcomed back leading tackler Danny Trevathan from a hamstring injury and is bringing along OLB Leonard Floyd carefully after knee surgery. The Bears hoped oft-injured free agent OLB Aaron Lynch would amp up the pass rush, but he didn’t last one practice before a hamstring injury turned him into a spectator.
But ILB Nick Kwiatkoski has played well in the absence of Smith and Trevathan, and CBs Kyle Fuller, and especially Prince Amukamara, have been outstanding.
“We’re doing fine,” Fangio said. “We’re missing guys, which is always a negative. We don’t have Roquan, we don’t have Danny, and we don’t have Lynch. Leonard is fighting through his recuperation. Those are the things we don’t like, but overall, it’s been good.”
It would be better with Smith, the eighth overall pick in the draft, who demonstrated his potential in the offseason as a player capable of making an all-over-the-field impact vs. the run and the pass.
“I think he has the potential to be a good player, a really good player,” Fangio said. “He’s got good instincts for the position (and) understands the game; that’s always a good place to start. I would have loved to have him here the first day, but we’ll adapt and adjust and get him ready.”
Whenever he does arrive, Smith will find that he’s way behind his teammates, not only in learning Fangio’s scheme, but in practicing compliance with the new rule that expands and increases the penalties for players who make contact by leading with the crown of the helmet. It’s an effort to increase player safety, but it may prove problematic to enforce and has not been easy to teach, according to Fangio.
“We've been coaching it, and I've been talking about it a lot in the meetings,” Fangio said. “We have video that we show in the meetings. But we don't do a lot of live stuff out here, and I don't think most teams do. We're trying hard, but until they get put in game action, I don't think we'll know (if there’s been enough time to get players to comply). But we have been making them fully aware of it.”