Ex-Bears coach Dave Wannstedt critical of rookie Roquan Smith’s absence
BOURBONNAIS – Former Bears coach Dave Wannstedt attended Friday’s practice, and he offered some compelling opinions on the issues facing Matt Nagy’s new team, most notably the absence of first-round draft pick Roquan Smith.
“It really doesn’t make much sense,” said Wannstedt, who works as an analyst for Fox Sports and The Score (WSCR 670-AM). “The way everybody’s slotted now, for a rookie to hold out because of some of the fine print, it’s pretty selfish from an agent standpoint to do that. This kid needs to be here. He needs to be practicing. These are valuable days. They play a preseason game a week from now. And you do not get these days back.
“You would like to think that an agent would be smart enough to understand that. At some point the player’s got to understand that, ‘This guy works for me. I’m not working for the agent.’ And you’ve got to stand up and say, ‘The contract’s fair, I need to practice and help this football team.’”
Wannstedt compiled a 32-32 record in his first four years with the Bears, but he was fired after back-to-back 4-12 seasons in 1997 and ’98. That ’98 season got off to a rough start, partly because first-round RB Curtis Enis, the fifth overall pick, missed almost a month of training camp.
In that ’98 season, the Bears lost their opener 24-23 to the Jaguars on a brutally hot day in Jacksonville, Fla. The details are still fresh in Wannstedt’s mind.
“We were down on the goalline,” he said. “And Enis was our running back. I remember him coming out of the game because he was exhausted, and we couldn’t use him. The first thing I thought of: ‘If he was with us from Day One in training camp, his whole physical conditioning would have been different and we could have closed that game out.’ We ended up losing in the last minute.’”
Because of the rookie wage scale, Smith’s four-year deal will be for between $18 million and $19 million. But the two sides continue to haggle over details, and every day the inside linebacker misses, it delays his ability to contribute, which is being counted on heavily. Nagy had no updates on the situation after Friday’s practice.
“Physically, I’m sure he’s running and doing that stuff,” Wannstedt said. “But there’s no substitute for what they’re doing now – having the pads on and going through full-speed drills with pads on. You can talk all you want about (working out on) shorts, and doing it at a high school or college to get ready – it’s not the same.”
Wannstedt believes retaining defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was a shrewd move by the Bears and one that will help Nagy succeed.
“I knew they were going to hire an offensive QB guy because of (Mitch) Trubisky,” Wannstedt said. “But, to me, the most important hire was Vic Fangio (and) that (defensive) coaching staff. They were one of the top defenses in the league last year. That’s going to help them this year. And it’s really going to give Mitch Trubisky and Matt Nagy a chance to get started without really worrying about the defense.”
Wannstedt was asked what advice he would give first-year coach Nagy, as he tries to resurrect the franchise after four straight last-place finishes in the NFC North.
“I would tell you this,” Wannstedt said: “Put your energy and your focus on the reason you got the job. Why did the Bears hire you? Why did other people have interest in you? Because of your offense and your QB coaching. Don’t go in there and try to be a fireman. There are fires all over the place, special teams, defense, and the weight room.
“All of those things you can address, but not now. Right now, you have to get to the offense, and that’s why they hired you. Keep your focus on Mitch Trubisky and that offense, and get those guys to take a step forward.”
And maybe get your first-round draft pick into camp.