Bears will rely on Roquan Smith, Nicholas Morrow's speed to anchor defense

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Speed of Smith, Morrow will be critical to Bears' defense originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

LAKE FOREST – Playing defense in the modern NFL requires speed and versatility. If you don’t have those, you’ll be in hot water on Sundays.

Matt Eberflus has big plans for the Bears’ defense. Eberflus has entered and emphasized takeaways, controlled aggression, and discipline. The Bears have holes in their defense, but having two heat-seeking missiles at the second level will hopefully allow Chicago to mask some deficiencies elsewhere.

Linebackers Roquan Smith and Nicholas Morrow will be critical to the success of Eberflus and defensive coordinator Alan Williams’ defense this season. The Bears will rely on their speed, instincts, and tackling ability to gum up the high-scoring offenses prevalent across the NFL.

“I always joke with these guys, I pull up their 40 times when they came out of college. Roquan ran a 4.51 and Nick ran a 4.52, so they’re both fast,” linebackers coach Dave Borgonzi said Tuesday after the Bears’ fourth OTA practice. “I would say we have some of the fastest linebackers in the NFL, and that’s how I want them to play. That’s their timed speed, and that’s what we expect to see on the field. When they’re out there, they’re going to be fast, we’re going to play fast and we want to be able to run sideline to sideline.
 
“Having those two guys that can run like they do, that’s a huge benefit for our defense.”
 
Morrow, who the Bears signed this offseason, has experience in Eberflus’ system, which might explain why Morrow and not Smith handled the defensive calls Tuesday. That’s something Morrow is comfortable with if the Bears give him those responsibilities.
 
“It’s cool, but I think it’s on everybody,” Morrow said. “Like once the call gets in, everybody’s got to echo it. It’s been cool, but the biggest thing is understanding your wind, because you’ve got to be in shape to do it. You’ve got to run downfield, then you’ve got to run back and give the calls. So, it’s been cool, but I don’t think it’s been anything new. It’s nothing I haven’t done before.”
 
Borgonzi said it was too early for the Bears to put labels on the linebackers and name the weak-side, middle, and strong-side backers. He and Morrow noted that the weak-side and middle linebacker positions are “interchangeable” in this defense, so labels won’t be as significant.
 
However, given that Darius Leonard played weak-side for Eberflus in Indianapolis, it would seem logical that Smith would find himself at that position and Morrow at middle. Matthew Adams and undrafted rookie Jack Sanborn likely will compete for the strong-side slot.
 
As for Morrow and Smith, they already seem to be clicking which bodes well for what will be a critical pairing on Sundays.
 
“One, he’s fast,” Morrow said of playing alongside Smith. “Then, two, his pre-snap reads are really good, so being able to anticipate pre-snap is helpful. Then, he always communicates to me to kind of get me going, so it’s been helpful.”

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