Roquan Smith, the eighth overall pick in last year's draft and leading tackler on the NFL's top-rated defense in 2018, met with the media for the first time in 27 days at Halas Hall on Tuesday.
Smith's last public comments previously came Oct. 2, when he confirmed he was returning to the field in London against the Oakland Raiders following his abrupt deactivation a week earlier hours before the team's last win, 16-6 over the Minnesota Vikings, because of "personal reasons."
There were no questions for Smith during the five-minute group interview in the locker room specifically about his personal reasons for missing the first game of his career, but he said he "definitely feels like I am where I want to be [physically and mentally]."
Smith stressed the importance of him and the Bears 'D,' who were better but still not up to their great standard, continuing to build on Sunday, when he tallied five tackles vs. the Chargers a few days after coach Matt Nagy stated candidly that Smith hasn't been the player the Bears need and expect.
“No. He can definitely play better. And he knows that, Nagy said. “That’s where we’re at right now.”
While the circumstances surrounding Smith's Week 4 absence and long layoff in speaking publicly afterward remain completely unknown, it's no secret that he appeared closer to himself vs. the Chargers — even if it wasn't the stat-sheet filling performance that was commonplace during Smith's 2018 Pro Bowl alternate campaign, when he came within three tackles of breaking Brian Urlacher's franchise rookie record.
"I felt like I was downhill in the game. I feel like I definitely improved that aspect," he said of Sunday, of an increasingly assertive and physical day matching that assessment. "I definitely felt like that was one of the biggest things."
Smith, whose game is built around speed, instincts and supreme physicality and confidence, did interestingly mention, "be sure of myself," when asked about specific ways that he can continue to improve. And although the assumption by most has been that his fall off in play is correlated to his situation off the field, it should benoted that Danny Trevathan revealed last week that the two running mates switched positions this offseason in Chuck Pagano's 'D.'
"Right now he's just trying to figure out his game a little bit. I’m playing the “Mike,” he’s playing the backside now," Trevathan said, adding "I know that dog that's in him. It might not look like it right now, but he’s still out there, he’s still wreaking havoc — he’s just not making plays as much as he’s used to."
But Smith's increased outward emotion during Sunday's start perhaps was even more notable, including after his and Danny Trevathan's run stuff on the game's opening play, when Smith burst to his feet in celebration and nearly collided with a referee and again later in the second half when he bounced up after a play, nearly into Chargers QB Philip Rivers.
"It was just, you know, happy to be out there with my guys. It’s just living the dream, so at the end of the day think about it from that perspective," he said. "People would die to be in the position I’m in, so it’s just thinking about it from that mindset."
Smith is among the more decorated college linebackers to enter the NFL in years, and he'd be the face of the Bears 'D' if it weren't for Khalil Mack. It's those facts, paired with the deafening silence surrounding whatever situation he's been battling off the field in recent weeks, greatly contributing to concerns from all areas regarding the 22-year-old's well-being, more so than his struggles on the field.
"Just a family and we all back each other from whatever," Smith said of the support he's received in recent weeks from teammates, including running mate Danny Trevathan. "Whatever the case may be, if those guys have a down day or anything like that, we’re all just here for each other. So, family."