BOURBONNAIS – With Friday afternoon’s training camp-opening practice looming, first-round draft pick Roquan Smith had not yet reported Thursday night.
The dynamic inside linebacker is expected to help elevate a Bears defense from very good to excellent this year, and general manager Ryan Pace expressed optimism regarding the eighth overall selection but offered little evidence that a deal was imminent.
“There are a lot of details that go into these things,” Pace said Thursday. “We’re optimistic that he’s here soon. It’s really part of the process, and meanwhile, we’re rolling forward with the guys that are here, and you know that chemistry and continuity is important.”
Which is why it’s vital that Smith not miss much time. He’s expected to crack the starting lineup soon, although that schedule would have to be adjusted if he missed much practice time.
“Ideally, yeah, we want him here,” Pace said. “But we also understand this happens. This isn’t necessarily abnormal around the league. It’s happening. It’s sometimes part of the process. We’re very optimistic that he’ll be here very soon. But it is what kind of what it is right now.”
Only three of the top 10 picks in this year’s draft had signed as of Thursday evening, but the Bears are in a slightly different situation because they began training camp a week earlier than every other team, except the Ravens, so there’s more for Smith to miss.
Because NFL rookie contracts are slotted, Smith’s deal will be for about
$18 million over four years with an
$11 million signing bonus. Theoretically, that should eliminate most delays in negotiations, but teams and agents occasionally squabble about the wording of fourth-year “offset language” money that a team can recoup in the event a player is cut and signs elsewhere.
“I think these are rather common and somewhat predictable,” Pace said, “but we have great relationships with [Smith’s] agents. We’ve worked with them on a number of deals. It’s just working this process.”
Let’s get physical
Coach Matt Nagy wants to run a physical camp but also keep his first Bears team healthy, which is much easier said than done.
But Nagy also knows the value of a healthy team.
“The biggest thing that any coach in the NFL will tell you is that you want to come out healthy,” Nagy said. “So you have to know where you’re at on that one. You have to have some luck involved in that. There are some unfortunate injuries, and there are some that happen for certain reasons. Health is the biggest concern for us.”
So, how can Nagy have it both ways?
“When [you] have the live periods, you’ve got to know it situationally, have a plan for when you’re going to do that,” Nagy said. “We’ll get together as a staff, and we have an idea when that’s going to be. Every team out there is going to bang and have live periods. You just go with it. The guys understand that. There are some bumps and bruises, and we have a great training staff that gets the guys back on track and rolling.
“If there’s certain guys you want to be calculated with, there’s a method to the madness. I know it’s my first year going through it, and I’ll learn from things, but I feel like we have a solid plan.”
Veteran defensive lineman Akiem Hicks knows a certain amount of banging is necessary despite the increased risk of injury.
“It has to be competitive,” Hicks said. “It has to be where you get out there and have a couple hot days back-to-back-to-back, and coach is running you hard, and it’s giving us a little test. You need those moments. Those are the moments I look forward to at training camp, where it gets a little aggressive out there.
“I think that builds not only your team confidence but also that tenacity, that edge you need to have to play, especially defense.”
At least the Bears will open camp healthy. Pace said no one would start camp on the physically unable-to-perform list, and Nagy said guard Kyle Long and wide receiver Allen Robinson will “be full speed ahead, good to go.”