Roquan's trade request puts spotlight on Adams, Bears' LB depth


LAKE FOREST — Roquan Smith's future with the Bears was uncertain before Tuesday's trade request. But now that the 25-year-old linebacker has asked for a one-way ticket out of Chicago, the spotlight will shine even brighter on those filling in at WILL linebacker. 

Smith has been on the PUP list since the start of training camp as he negotiates his contract extension with the Bears. While Smith has been in shorts and a hat, Matt Adams and Joe Thomas, two players competing for the SAM linebackers spot, have also been filling in at the WILL. 

I think it's real to get the other guys reps because, in this day and time, there have been times when because of COVID, guys are out. The next guy has to stand up, and you can't say, 'Hey, we didn't play well because of …' That's not an excuse," defensive coordinator Alan Williams said Sunday of how the Bears are preparing without Smith. "You have to play well no matter who you have. 

"The NFL is a tough league. It's a physical league. Guys are gonna be down and so the next guy has to be able to come in and not be the guy he is replacing, but he has to come in and we still have to play winning football and we still have to execute, still have to know your assignment. We're still looking to play well." 

The Bears believe that practicing without Smith will allow players like Adams or Thomas to step up in the regular season should Smith be forced to miss time with an injury. 

After Smith's trade demand, Adams and Thomas might have to do more than step in at the critical position. 

But the Bears believe they are more than capable if called upon. Eleven days into camp, Adams and Thomas have impressed the Bears' coaching staff. Adams knows head coach Matt Eberflus' defense well from their time together in Indianapolis, and Thomas has been a poster boy for the HITS philosophy the Bears preach. 

"Matt Adams is still in there, (Joe) Thomas, he's still doing a great job. Actually, he's turning the football over at a high rate, so when you can do that, that equals wins," Williams said of Adams and Thomas on Sunday when discussing the SAM linebacker competition. "So those two are the guys that are pushing for playing time [at SAM] and pushing to still get reps."

With Smith requesting a trade from the Bears on Tuesday, the need for guys to be able to step in and fill the critical WILL linebacker spot is all the more important. 

"I mean, it's documented in the defense that's the position, right?" Eberflus said Tuesday when asked if he has made it clear to the front office that the WILL linebacker is vital to his defense. "That's one of the positions, that, the three-technique, outside pass rushers, nickel. Those guys are all very important to us, and that WILL position is a cog to that." 

General manager Ryan Poles told the media Tuesday his plan is still to extend Smith. Poles believes the Bears' offer showed the star linebacker how much they respect and value his talent. 

Smith clearly feels differently. 

While Poles' plan is to lock Smith up long-term, there's a chance the Georgia product has played his last game as a Bear. 

Offensive tackle Riley Reiff, who has played against Smith as an NFC North veteran, knows what the Bears would be losing if No. 58 is gone. 

"He's one of the best players in the NFL," Reiff said Tuesday. "I've played against him how many years now and just what he brings, the leader, the type of guy he is in the locker room, we want him here.

"He can do it all, right? He can drop back. He can blitz. He's always making tackles. The Bears' defense is the Bears' defense, and it's been like that way for a long time. And he was just another one of the rock solid players in the middle."

If Smith does get his wish, Adams is prepared to step in and fill the void. The 26-year-old backed up Shaquille Leonard at the WILL in Indianapolis and knows the scheme well enough to lessen the blow of Smith's departure. 

While Adams is a solid player and Thomas has been a camp riser, it's impossible to replace a player of Smith's caliber with one player. That Eberflus planned to rely on Smith to man one of the critical points in his defense makes the potential loss of the star linebacker even harder to stomach. 

The Bears have spent the last two weeks prepping their other linebackers to be ready in case Smith went down. It turns out he might not be there at all. 

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