Smallwood: Joining Bears would be honor

At the time Connecticut middle linebacker Yawin Smallwood stepped to the podium for his media session at the NFL combine, the only team he'd met with up to that point was the Chicago Bears.

That's fine by Smallwood.

"It would be an honor [to play for the Bears]," he said. "They have a great tradition of having great Hall of Fame linebackers over there, so I would be so happy to play over there. But I'm just going to show what I can do and see what happens from there."

Well, the results during on-field testing at Lucas Oil Stadium didn't go quite the way Smallwood would have wanted. He bench pressed 225 pounds 18 times, and ran a 5.01-second 40-yard dash after pulling up with a hamstring injury. Smallwood also posted a vertical jump of 36.5 inches and a broad jump of 9 feet.

He'll receive another opportunity to better those results next month at Connecticut's Pro Day, but apparently the Bears liked what they saw on film of Smallwood, who declared for the draft after his junior season. Smallwood racked up a team-high 118 tackles as a junior, and 120 as a sophomore, with 15 of those stops going for lost yardage, in addition to producing four sacks and forcing two fumbles. It doesn't hurt that he's played for new Bears defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni.

Pasqualoni spent a little more than two seasons (2011-13) as head coach at Connecticut. Going into last season with Smallwood being named to the Bednarik and Butkus Award preseason watch lists, Pasqualoni said told the Hartford Courant that one thing, "I really like about him, which I think is a strength, is that he doesn't process what he sees. He just goes. Some guys look at it and they hesitate, then they go. He's not a process guy. He's a read-and-react guy, which is a big part of the position, too."

Asked what the Bears liked about him, Smallwood said, "I have a high motor. I make plays out there on the football field. I rack up a lot of tackles. That's what they need on defense."

There's no disputing that with the Bears coming off their worst defensive season in franchise history. At this point, however, it's unknown what the club's level of interest in Smallwood really is.

Smallwood (6-2 ½, 246 pounds) played middle linebacker in a 4-3 scheme at UConn for Pasqualoni and is confident he's capable of handling what would be required of him at that position in the NFL.

At the combine, Smallwood, a former high school quarterback, wanted to show "that I'm an athletic Mike. I feel like I can cover the tight ends, the fast tight ends now. I feel that I can stop the run, make plays out there on the football field. I'm able to play with the big boys. The only knock that I had was that I didn't really play any big teams in college. I feel like teams are going to see once I get on the field that I can compete at a high football level."

Smallwood is projected to be taken anywhere from the second to fourth round of the draft. If selected, Smallwood could be in competition with Jonathan Bostic, Shea McClellin and veteran D.J. Williams, provided he's brought back in 2014, for the starting job in the middle.