With a need for depth at cornerback to join Jaylon Johnson and Kyler Gordon, the Chicago Bears drafted Tyrique Stevenson in the second round and circled back for Minnesota’s Terell Smith in Round 5 at No. 165.
Conventional thinking is Stevenson will get the first shot to be a starter in the nickel package, but the Bears believe Smith has upside and will compete to be in the mix.
“What’s special about him is he’s kind of made that steady ascent,” co-director of player personnel Trey Koziol said. “So when we look at drafting players, it’s like, can you still get more out of them? Are they still on that developmental upswing? And that’s where Terell really stood out.
“He’s had some good, he’s had some bad, but it’s constantly gotten better. The senior year he showed a ton of improvement and he just kept getting better and better and then he went to the East-West Shrine game and that just kept getting better and better and better. And he obviously tested out really well at the combine and had a really nice pro day.”
Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck described Smith as a player who constantly was pushing to improve. Fleck spoke with the Tribune about the cornerback’s development and prospects for a professional career. Here’s that interview, edited for clarity.
Note: This is part of a series of conversations with college position coaches of Bears draft picks.
Talk me through Terell’s career arc in the program as he played right away as a freshman, had some injuries and then didn’t play until later on.
After our first year, we ended up being one of the youngest teams in America. We played a ton of freshmen. Due to injuries he got a chance to play as a freshman and then got hurt a little bit, other guys were a little bit older. Brought in Benjamin St-Juste to play, who is now with the Washington Commanders. T-Time was a track kid in high school and just completely dedicated himself (to football).
After his freshman year, and when he didn’t play his sophomore year because of injury, he spent three years every day — I am not kidding on this — before and after practice with our strength coach working on his hip mobility and flexibility. I mean every single day. After practice, 15 or 20 minutes just on his stretching, flexibility, hip mobility because that was one of the things that held him back from playing his sophomore year with the injuries. He turned it on, played, then had a groin injury and overcame that and had a heck of a senior year. You’re talking about a guy that really dedicated himself into making something that was maybe a weakness into a strength. You turn on that film now and you don’t see a stiff player at all.
If a player gets labeled “stiff,” it can be really hard for them to turn that from a deficit into a strength, right?
There are two labels he had — “track kid” and “stiff.” Those are the two negative labels he had coming out of high school. But he was always tough. So we felt like those were two things that we could definitely develop. He had speed and at that position you have to be able to run. We felt like we could take that speed and develop it if he was willing to put in the work. Terell was a young man that put in the work. He’s a football player, tough, and he is incredibly flexible, loose hipped. Those are the two things coming out of high school of why a lot of people probably didn’t (recruit) him, and those are reasons he wound up being drafted in the NFL in the fifth round.
In a perfect setting, what position will Smith be best at in the NFL?
I think outside. He’s got good length. He can tackle really well. He’s tough, he’s rangy. He can play into the boundary. He’s going to be really good matching up with a lot of bigger receivers and he will be physical with them. He does a really good job understanding space. He’s got a good feel for it. That always helps a corner.
How much work did he get on special teams when he was in a reserve role?
He definitely played on special teams, especially early. Usually, our guys only play one or two phases if they are a starter, and T-Time did that throughout his entire career. He’s such a team player and he’s so flexible, and I’m not talking about his mobility, he will be a good fit. Big, long, he can run, he’s physical. He could play all four special teams are going to fit him.