On the same night the Bears' decades-old search for a franchise quarterback to lead their offense took another very strange turn, there was at least a glimmer of light portending the possibility that the defense found one.
While questions about the Bears offense continued to multiply at a dizzying pace, Sunday night may have marked the start of Roquan Smith’s reign as the new field general of the Bears’ still-strong ‘D,’ playing for the first time without his running mate and the unit’s most vocal leader Danny Trevathan.
It certainly opened inspiringly with Smith starring as much anyone when the Bears were in critical need.
So Pace and Nagy can hope they have that much going for them, which more than nice is a necessity in light of the growing flames Bears brass sparked and now must extinguish in the other two phases bordering on blazing infernos.
That’s right, in addition to the ongoing questions about Mitch Trubisky; it appears the Bears may also need a new kicker, again.
However unfortunate, at least the (likely) outcomes for Trubisky and Eddy Pineiro were somewhat predictable — unlike the need to cling to one of Smith’s sporadic standout showings a year after he was selected eighth overall and followed a lengthy summer holdout with a spectacular rookie season.
Perhaps it’s a fitting microcosm of a season that began with Super Bowl talk and appears poised to finish with a lengthy list of vexing questions. And fair or not, as more and more of Pace’s recent high draft picks flame out, Smith becoming who the Bears thought he’d be when they drafted him is increasingly vital.
Is it a lot of pressure on Smith, who had rarely resembled his rookie form since whatever personal matters led to his Week 4 deactivation? No doubt.
But that’s the type of prospect Smith was entering the NFL — a no-doubter. The reigning Butkus Award winner and prototype for today’s changing game, he was drafted to be the latest in a long line of line-backing legends for a franchise whose history at the position is as rich as any.
And with all due respect to Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski, drafting Smith was supposed to increase Pace’s leverage as the two veterans reach the open market this offseason, not limit it. Especially with investing in a quarterback now likely to be back atop Pace’s offseason to-do list.
Smith’s Year 2 regression prior to Sunday night in Los Angeles, where he notched his third career pick, in addition to a game-high 11 tackles — even in a Bears season defined by steps backward — was both stunning but also as complicated as any to explain.
Which is why with Trubisky looking as lost as ever, and Nagy’s Bears apparently looking at cutting their losses with Pace’s subsequent selection in 2017, second-round TE Adam Shaheen, the spotlight shifts naturally onto guys like Smith, James Daniels, Anthony Miller and Bilal Nichols. You could also throw in Eddie Jackson and Tarik Cohen, the two that ironically appeared to break out of their own slumps Sunday in the same game their draft mate Trubisky struggled, and Shaheen was literally left behind.
It has to be about looking ahead to 2020 and beyond now.
With six games to play, the Bears will have to determine once and for all if Trubisky is salvageable, and they can’t make their next QB move until this spring anyway, but they can help determine which of these other young players still appear to form part of the team’s foundation.
Smith, in particular, still has much work to do before he can get back on the fast track to becoming the team’s defensive stalwart, but Sunday was an encouraging start.