It’s no surprise that Bears defensive line coach Travis Smith sounded as excited as anyone to get newly acquired defensive end Montez Sweat on the field Sunday against the Saints at the Superdome.
“Absolutely,” Smith said. “It’s not like it’s the offseason where these guys have not been reporting, they’re at home all day or working out on their own and you have to catch him up. He’s been playing football, so he’s in football shape to play the way we play. He’s in great shape right now.”
Smith wouldn’t commit to how much Sweat would play against the Saints. But he’ll play.
“We’ve already had several meetings and practice today,” Smith said late Thursday afternoon. “He took tons of reps at practice. On Friday, we’re going to meet again. We just got done meeting right now. Practice again [Friday], and he’ll be ready to go for the game.”
Just as Sweat has the potential to make Smith a better coach, as a pass rusher with 6œ sacks in eight games, he has the potential to make each of his teammates a better player. So when the news of the trade broke, it created a buzz at Halas Hall.
“I was excited. I was ready to get to work,” defensive tackle Justin Jones said. “He [commands] a double-team, so that helps me out a lot. He’s a very, very good player. He’s a very good rusher. I think he adds another dimension of physicality to the D-line. I’m glad to have him.”
A year ago, the trades of defensive end Robert Quinn and linebacker Roquan Smith emotionally deflated the Bears’ locker room, and it showed on the field.
The Bears dropped from a tie for seventh to 32nd in the NFL in points allowed and from 12th to 29th in yards allowed. And they went 0-10.
It’s a different story this time around. While Sweat is not Smith or Quinn, the addition of a quality pass rusher has the potential for a chain reaction that lifts the Bears’ defense individually and collectively.
“Hopefully he comes in and continues to be that dog that he’s shown over the years,” cornerback Jaylon Johnson said.
“Get some tipped passes that maybe fall my way or get the [quarterback] to throw the ball off target a little bit, allow it to fall in my hands.”
The Bears’ defense has underperformed — 23rd in yards allowed, 28th in points allowed and tied for 22nd in takeaways. The big improvement is in run defense — from 31st to third in yards allowed (157.3 to 78.8 per game) and from 27th to first in yards per carry (4.9 to 3.3).
But that excellence against the run, which is where everything starts in coach Matt Eberflus’ defense, has yet to light the spark for this unit. The Bears are 32nd in sacks with 10 (every other team in the league has 15 or more).
That created a bit of desperation for general manager Ryan Poles. He traded a second-round pick — currently 35th overall — to the Commanders for Sweat, who’s on a pace for 13 sacks.
“It’s more talent,” defensive end DeMarcus Walker said. “The defense is already together. We’re one brotherhood. To add more talent to it . . . you’re licking your chops.”
By himself, Sweat might not have a transformative impact on the Bears’ defensive line. But combined with Yannick Ngakoue on the other side, Sweat’s impact could be magnified.
“They gotta turn to somebody,” said Walker, referring to an offensive line having to defend quality pass rushers on both ends. “It’s good to have so many guys that can affect the passer, and then just let us go. That’s the biggest thing, the biggest challenge for the coaches — just let us go. Let us do our thing.”