Roquan Smith, Mitch Trubisky keeping rare company among Bears single-season record holders

December 25, 2018

Roquan Smith needs eight tackles in the Bears’ regular-season finale to surpass Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher for the most by a rookie in franchise history.

Lest we forget, Smith, the eighth overall pick in this year’s draft, didn’t become a full-time player until Week 2 after missing the entirety of his first NFL camp because of a contract dispute and subsequent hamstring injury.

But, like Urlacher, measuring Smith’s growing impact on games merely by looking at his tackle totals is a futile exercise. In Sunday’s win against the 49ers, Smith recorded his fifth sack, blitzing on second-and-8 through the strong-side B gap, vacated by 49ers rookie RT Mike McGlinchey in an effort to help double team Akiem Hicks. Smith’s closing speed and finishing ability — hallmarks of his rounded game — were on display yet again.

Smith has been a hammer on the NFL’s No. 2 run ‘D,’ his range and physicality apparent from Day 1. But his growth on passing downs as a blitzer but in coverage, where the Bears are playing at an elite level, is even more exciting in today’s passing league.

Smith’s five sacks trail only Khalil Mack (12.5) and Akiem Hicks (7) for the team lead and represent the second-most (behind Urlacher’s 8) ever by a Bears rookie inside backer. Smith added two tackles for loss, increasing his total to 8 — a far cry from Urlacher’s 16 as a rookie but more than every current Bear besides Mack, Hicks and Leonard Floyd.

With 116 tackles, Smith ranks 12th in the NFL. Among the 11 defenders ahead of him, only fellow rookie Darius Leonard has more sacks, and only rookies Leonard and Leighton Vander Esch, Luke Kuechly, Bobby Wagner, Cory Littleton and Kiko Alonso have more combined interceptions and passes defensed than Smith’s six.

Three-down linebacker, indeed.

In most seasons, being the leading tackler and one of the most improved week-to-week performers on the NFL’s most dominating defense would put Smith on the short list for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. This isn’t a normal season, however, and Smith seems likely to come up a little short in a race against Leonard, Vander Esch, Chargers S Derwin James and others.

Smith, of course, was drafted to be the quarterback of the Bears defense for the next decade, and his arrival came one year after Chicago tabbed its “other” franchise signal caller, Mitch Trubisky. Together, they help form the nucleus of a young, loaded division champion. And as bright as the future appears, the present picture is also pretty darn pleasing.

While Smith draws natural comparisons to Urlacher on a franchise with the richest LB tradition in football, its QB legacy isn’t as sterling. But that shouldn’t lessen the accomplishments of Trubisky.

Trubisky’s 86.2 completion percentage (25-of-29 for 246 yards) Sunday marked the highest by a Bears quarterback dating back to 1960 and is tied for the seventh-highest mark in the NFL this season. Moreover, in Year 2, Trubisky’s 96.0 passer rating and 66.4 completion percentage are the best single-season marks in franchise history among quarterbacks with at least 225 passing attempts.

A reminder: Trubisky and Matt Nagy, and the quarterback and his top four pass catchers only have been working together since the spring. Nagy said only last week that Trubisky is on the ground floor of a four or five-story build. And he’s already among the most prolific single-season passers in franchise history, not to mention his rare feats as a runner.

The NFL is a week-to-week league, and worst-to-first teams like the Bears historically struggle to follow up their turnaround campaigns with sustained periods of success. But the early progress of the Bears’ two most recent first-rounders, the centerpieces of the franchise’s roster construction, would seem to bode well for Chicago’s chances of building on its breakthrough.

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