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Bears' Roquan Smith feels 'no pressure' despite expectations

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Former Georgia inside linebacker Roquan Smith is arguably the Chicago Bears' most NFL-ready first-round draft pick of the Ryan Pace era.

The general manager’s previous three top-10 selections (Kevin White, Leonard Floyd and Mitchell Trubisky) were all -- to some degree -- viewed as projects on draft night.

The seventh overall pick in 2015, White posted monster numbers during his final season at West Virginia, but the wide receiver’s route-running tree was extremely limited, to say the least.

Floyd, whom Pace moved up for to take at No. 9 in 2016, arrived in Chicago with tremendous speed and length, but the linebacker also had a body that required substantial work from a strength, bulk and nutritional standpoint.

And while the Bears are convinced Trubisky is their long sought-after franchise quarterback, last year’s second overall selection started only 12 games at North Carolina, and entered training camp as Chicago’s third quarterback behind Mike Glennon and Mark Sanchez.

Smith’s scenario is entirely different.

The reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year and consensus All-American is expected to start immediately at one of the Bears’ linebacker spots, presumably next to Danny Trevathan at inside linebacker. Smith’s speed (4.51-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine) also lends itself to the rookie staying on the field on passing downs. One of Smith’s strengths at Georgia was his ability to run with tight ends in coverage.

“Well, there's no pressure to that [being expected to start on Day 1],” Smith said Friday at Halas Hall. “I know my skill set, but I just want to come here and be the best possible teammate I can be whether it's special teams, defense or however the coaches feel that I can best serve the team. I'm just here for that.”

Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s eye for talent at linebacker cannot be discounted.

Fangio, who’s entering his 32nd year in the NFL, coached the famed “Dome Patrol” many seasons ago in New Orleans, a group composed of All-Pro linebackers Rickey Jackson, Vaughan Johnson, Sam Mills and Pat Swilling. Later, Fangio coached Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs in Baltimore and Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman in San Francisco.

In fact, Smith closely followed Willis’ career as a young Atlanta Falcons fan in Macon County, Georgia.

“Well, I was a huge Patrick Willis fan growing up,” Smith said.

“[I] just [liked] the way the guy played the game. He was very relentless, very physical, and I felt like he did things the right way on and off the field.”

Doing things the right way off the field is apparently important to Smith. The Bears cited Smith’s high character on draft night as another reason they felt comfortable with him after Indianapolis drafted Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson sixth overall and Buffalo traded up to No. 7 to select Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen.

“Roquan is not only a great player but he has outstanding intangibles,” Pace said. "That’s a huge strength of his and it was a very attractive quality for us.”

Added Pace: “He’s a highly intelligent player. He’s an economics major with a 3.2 GPA and is a highly, highly intelligent player. When we met with him and interviewed him, that shined through the whole way. We interview guys at the combine and here, and every time it was A-plus, A-plus. The information our scouts were gathering at the school, same thing. From players he played with, same thing. This guy checks all the boxes.”