Entering training camp, the Chicago Bears are currently without one of their defensive stars. On Wednesday, the team announced Roquan Smith has been placed on the PUP list as he holds out for a new contract. Despite the holdout, head coach Matt Eberflus announced that Smith will play the Will linebacker position in the Bears’ defense.
Now, for the average football fan, this might not seem significant. However, in Eberflus’ Tampa 2-influenced scheme, the Will, Sam, and Mike linebackers play different roles.
For comparison, think of the Lovie Smith-era Bears defenses. In that scheme, Brian Urlacher played the Mike spot, Lance Briggs played the Will, and Hunter Hillenmeyer/Nick Roach/etc. played the Sam. When defending the run, all linebackers have their specific gaps in the offensive scheme to fill. However, in pass coverage, the roles are slightly varied.
Understanding Smith’s Role
Quickly, I had personal curiosity regarding Smith’s role as a Mike or Will in the new defense. In the 3-4 defense Chicago played during the Matt Nagy era, Smith was one of two inside linebackers, meaning they played similar roles. Now, playing as more of an outside linebacker in the 4-3 means Smith will cover more in the short and intermediate portions of the field. Whoever plays the Mike will cover the “deep third.”
For a visual representation, check out the graphic below from FootballAdvantage.com. The Mike linebacker and Will linebacker have very different coverage assignments in the Tampa 2-influenced 4-3 defense.
Smith will play the “W” in the graphic. His athleticism and speed will still flourish in this role; it really means he’ll play more around the line of scrimmage and less in the secondary. Whoever plays the Mike spot will take care of deeper coverage.
Will Smith Call the Defense?
The other question that this news sparks is in regard to calling the defense. Will Roquan Smith call the defense as the Will linebacker? Should we expect the Mike linebacker to call the defense? Although Smith will likely be a captain, this might be a different role for him on the field.
Surely, Smith won’t mind his new role in the defense. He’ll still be a key cog in the success of the 2022 Chicago Bears defense. However, it is certainly worth noting that the Mike linebacker and Will linebacker have very different responsibilities in a Tampa 2-inspired defense.
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