Sunday, August 14, 2022

Roquan Smith To Outside Linebacker? Bears Now Have More Incentive


One of the biggest storylines going into this summer is what the new coaching staff has planned for Roquan Smith. The star Chicago Bears linebacker has made his name playing inside since he arrived in 2018. However, there is a chance that could change under Matt Eberflus. While Smith can play middle linebacker in a 4-3 alignment, many believe his biggest strengths would serve him far better as a “Will” outside linebacker. The same spot Lance Briggs occupied during the Lovie Smith era.

It sounds logical in theory. The problem is the Bears don’t really have a replacement for Smith if he does move out of the middle. At least not yet. This is where recent developments on the free agent market come into play. Some veteran players have been sacrificed as teams make roster adjustments to secure more salary cap space. A few of them are proven linebackers.

Two, in particular, should interest the Bears.

Jordan Hicks has played both inside linebacker and middle linebacker with the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals. Last season as a middle linebacker was arguably the best of his career, playing all 17 games with 116 tackles, four sacks, and a forced fumble. Anthony Hitchens is even more intriguing. Both because of his prior success and his established connection to Eberflus.

The two men worked together for four years from 2014 to 2017 when Eberflus was the linebackers coach in Dallas. After that, Hitchens went on to help the Chiefs win the Super Bowl in 2019. His veteran leadership and experience would be a major boon for many players on this roster. That includes Smith himself. Shifting positions like this can be challenging to embrace. Having someone like Hitchens or Hicks who’ve done something like it before might help smooth the transition.

Roquan Smith may control how this goes

Eberflus has said from the beginning that he and the new staff want to work to the player’s strengths. They may see Smith as a perfect fit for weakside linebacker. The big hurdle is what the player himself thinks. Remember, he has played inside since his days at Georgia. That is where he developed into a top 10 draft pick and now a Pro Bowl-caliber player. If he feels it would be best for him to stay in the middle, the coaches would likely accommodate him.

Still, it might be hard to pass up this opportunity with the abundance of quality middle linebackers available. Don’t forget Anthony Walker is also out there. He had success under Eberflus in Indianapolis before spending last season in Cleveland. It wouldn’t be too difficult for the Bears to land one of these guys on a manageable contract. That would allow them to focus their resources at more critical positions.

It is all about fitting the puzzle pieces together.

Roquan Smith should continue to excel as a player regardless of which position he plays. This is merely about where the coaches see him fitting best and whether he’s open to a change. If so, they have multiple avenues to fill the void in the middle.

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