Roquan Smith makes an immediate impact

What we learned as Roquan makes an impact on a dominant defensive day originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

LAKE FOREST – Roquan Smith’s ramp-up reached the next stage Tuesday when the Bears star linebacker returned to team drills for the first time since ending his hold-in Saturday.

On the first play of 11-on-11, Smith burst through the line and blew up a David Montgomery run for a loss of 3 with the help of Robert Quinn. The entire defensive sideline went nuts after Smith’s play, and someone yelled, “He’s back!”

Later, quarterback Justin Fields faced heavy pressure and tried to dump it off to Cole Kmet in the flat, but Smith was in coverage and knocked the ball away.

With the drama done for now, the Bears’ defense is happy to have its best player back on the field.

“I would just say everybody has a sense of confidence, a different sense of confidence when he’s out there, especially me being, like you said, playing with him for two years,” cornerback Jaylon Johnson said of having Smith back. “There’s some things that are kind of like unspoken, and we don’t always have to communicate certain things. We just kind of can see things the same.

“And then the communication is easier. Our communication doesn’t necessarily have to be the same with everybody as it is with the two of us. Like we don’t have to say too many words. It’s just his sense of security when you have a guy like him knowing his intelligence of the game, knowing how he plays the game physically. I mean, he’s a monster. But just the leadership and the IQ that he brings to the defense is definitely a big jump.”

The contract standoff hasn’t made Smith bitter or give anyone less than 100 percent.

“I would just say since he wants to be one of the greats, I feel like he has to keep the main thing the main thing and right now that’s playing ball,” Johnson said. “And he’s been doing that since he’s been back, since he’s been making his way back and he’s a real professional. At the end of the day, he just wants to go out there and he wants to play ball and make plays with us.”

With Smith back, the Bears’ defense dominated what was a disjointed offense Tuesday.

During one 11-on-11 segment, Fields threw deep down the left sideline for Darnell Mooney. Mooney was open, but the pass was high and bounced off the receiver’s fingertips and into the arms of Johnson for an interception.

With sprints on the line in a later team period, the Bears’ defense once again dominated the offense.

Kyler Gordon came on a nickel blitz on first down, notching a would-be sack. Justin Jones was also under pressure.

On second down, Fields threw across the middle of the field for Mooney, but the ball was once again a little off. The ball was tipped by Johnson, then ricocheted off Mooney’s fingers, and eventually was snagged by Gordon for an interception. The final play saw the defense blow up a screen pass to Montgomery, forcing Fields to throw it at the back’s feet and sending the offense for some afternoon cardio.

Head coach Matt Eberflus said the starters will play most of the first half Saturday in Cleveland. That’s necessary, given what we saw from the offense Tuesday.

Here are more notes from Tuesday’s practice:

— Velus Jones Jr. and Khalil Herbert were among the players who did not participate Tuesday. Also missing practice were N’Keal Harry, Jaquan Brisker, Byron Pringle, Tavon Young, Thomas Graham Jr., Trestan Ebner, Jaylon Jones, Lucas Patrick, Angelo Blackson, Tajae Sharpe, and Caleb Johnson.

— Eberflus spoke before practice and noted that Young has been working through a lower-leg injury for most of camp.

— During individual drills, Trevis Gipson came on a stunt and obliterated rookie Zachary Thomas. Braxton Jones stonewalled Al-Quadin Muhammad but lost to Robert Quinn.

— The Bears’ offense finished the day as clunky as it started with a lackluster two-minute drill in the red zone.

Montgomery opened the drill with a 1-yard run. On second down, Fields faced pressure and tried to dump it off to Kmet, but Smith broke the pass up. A draw to Montgomery gained 10 yards and got the offense down to the 9.

But they couldn’t punch it in.

Montgomery rushed to the right for no gain on first down before picking up 4 on second. There appeared to be some miscommunication on third down. Fields had Kmet open in the end zone, but Mooney broke open in the back of the end zone directly behind the tight end. Fields rifled a ball that appeared to be ticketed for Mooney, but Kmet tried to snag it, and the ball bounced off his hands and fell incomplete.

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