Roquan Smith sprung up from the Lambeau Field turf Sunday, his enthusiasm and adrenaline overflowing. He pumped his fist twice, skipped for a few yards and then gave Leonard Floyd a jumping headbutt.
The linebacker's first play in a Bears uniform was a sack of Packers quarterback DeShone Kizer. A first impression that measured up to his first-round draft pedigree. What a footnote to a career the Bears believe will rocket upward from there.
But by the end of their collapse in a 24-23 loss, an uncomfortable mix of truths and questions replaced the buzz of Smith's thrilling debut moment.
This immediate force spent the first 24 plays on the sideline. Why did it take so long for him to play?
Smith played only eight of 59 snaps (14 percent). In a one-point defeat, couldn't the eighth pick in the draft have made a winning difference?
Especially considering that his replacement, third-year veteran Nick Kwiatkoski, played 47 snaps, and none of his four tackles was closer than eight yards from the line of scrimmage.
If only Smith hadn't held out for 29 days. If only he hadn't missed all of training camp. If only he hadn't strained his left hamstring in his third practice after reporting.
If only ...
Now that the contract impasse between Smith and the Bears undeniably has affected the regular season, all he can do is prepare to play at full capacity as quickly as possible. That has been the challenge since Smith signed Aug. 14, and it continues ahead of Monday night's game against the Seahawks.
On Thursday, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio differentiated between Smith's limited playing time in Week 1 and that of newly-acquired All-Pro outside linebacker Khalil Mack.
"(Roquan) was still nursing an injury; Khalil was just fighting newness and not playing," Fangio said. "So we were a little cautious on that."
As for Smith's knowledge of the defense and his assignments, Fangio expressed no misgivings.
"The thing that gets lost with all these players is he was here in all the OTAs and the minicamps (for) 14 practices," he said. "He did a good job learning our system in that time, and then when he eventually got back."
Given that explanation, Smith should be expected to play a full game as soon as he's fit enough to do so. Coach Matt Nagy at least moved that direction Wednesday, saying: "With that time he has had, he's in a position to play more."
When he has been on the practice field, Smith has benefited from the process of learning through trial and error.
"There's a calmness about him that way," inside linebackers coach Glenn Pires said. "It's like: make a mistake (and) I understand. And what's important is move on to the next play. He's very, very good and mature in that way."
Smith said Wednesday he was fully comfortable with the game plan to defend against the Packers. He combined that mental readiness with his renowned high motor to contribute a sack and two assists on his eight snaps.
On his first play, that motor earned what linebacker Danny Trevathan called a scavenger sack. Mack got his hands on Kizer but slipped off. Smith, meanwhile, initially was stopped on his pass rush by running back Ty Montgomery. But he kept going and filtered through the offensive line traffic to get to Kizer.
"You're picking up sloppy seconds, but you're still doing your job and you're hustling to the ball, so (it) still counts," Trevathan said. "You want to see him hustling to the ball. That's what college players are known for. You come in here, and you never want to let that go."
Smith clearly has not. He chased down the ball every chance he could Sunday.
And that, he said, is his path to playing time.
"Just really 100 percent effort and do everything to the best of my ability," Smith said. "And I feel like everything else will take care of itself."
For the Bears, it can't happen soon enough.