After practicing throughout the week, the Bears made Smith a surprising inactive just before kickoff on Sunday due to what the team called “personal reasons.” The Bears survived without Smith, who was on the sidelines, in the middle of their defense, with backup inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski playing a starring role in Smith’s place, but if they’re going to reach the destination they’re aiming for a year after suffering a devastating playoff loss, they’ll need Smith on the field alongside fellow inside linebacker Danny Trevathan.
And that brings us to Monday morning, when Bears coach Matt Nagy met with members of the media. Sure enough, the topic of Smith’s absence popped up more than once. On every occasion — 12 to be exact, according to ESPN’s Jeff Dickerson — Nagy declined to provide any clarity to the situation. Every question, including if Smith will travel with the rest of the team to London for their Week 5 date with the Raiders, was met with some version of “personal issue.”
“It’s completely a personal issue,” Nagy said, per ESPN. “I’m not going to answer any more about it. That’s where it’s at right now. I understand where you all are coming from, but out of respect to this right now, I just want to leave it at that.”
It’s worth noting that the paragraphs above should not be construed as a criticism of Nagy. Without knowing what the “personal issue” actually is, it’s not fair to criticize Nagy for refusing to provide clarity to someone else’s situation. There’s just no way for any of us to know how serious the situation is and it goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that Smith’s personal well-being matters more than football.
In terms of football, though, Smith’s absence is concerning for the Bears. The No. 8 pick in last year’s draft, Smith racked up 121 total tackles, five sacks, five passes defended, and an interception during his rookie season. Through the first three weeks of this season, he generated 24 total tackles. While Kwiatkoski filled in admirably on Sunday with nine total tackles, two of which went for a loss, and one sack, he lacks the speed and athleticism that makes Smith one of the Bears’ best defensive players.
Fortunately for the banged up, but still 3-1 Bears, who also lost starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky to , the schedule is kind to them. Next up are the Raiders in London followed by their Week 6 bye. Looming on the other side of the bye are the 3-1 Saints who have gone 2-0 without Drew Brees, but that game won’t come for another three weeks, giving Smith time to make his way back to the team.