ILB Kwiatkoski ea­ger to prove him­self again at Bears’ deep­est po­si­tion

Chicago Sun-Times - - BEARS BEAT - ADAM L. JAHNS Email: ajahns @ sun­times. com

In the NFL’s next- man- up world, it’s rare that the next man in is as ca­pa­ble as the player he’s re­plac­ing.

A case in point is the Pack­ers’ pre­car­i­ous sit­u­a­tion at quar­ter­back with backup Brett Hund­ley play­ing for in­jured star Aaron Rodgers.

The Bears’ in­side lineback­ers, how­ever, are a dif­fer­ent story.

Co­or­di­na­tor Vic Fan­gio’s eighthranked de­fense has thrived re­gard­less of who’s in the mid­dle.

“There’s a sense of friendly com­pe­ti­tion there,” sec­ond- year line­backer Nick Kwiatkoski said.

And that “friendly com­pe­ti­tion” needs to pro­duce pos­i­tives Sun­day against the Pack­ers.

Kwiatkoski is in line to start for the first time since in­jur­ing a chest mus­cle in Week 2 against the Buc­ca­neers. Danny Tre­vathan has missed ev­ery prac­tice since strain­ing a calf against the Saints in Week 8.

“My focus [ was] just build­ing con­fi­dence and us­ing my arm, and I think I’ve done that the last cou­ple of weeks,” Kwiatkoski said. “I forced my­self to stay men­tally in the game more than I was be­fore. I was pre­par­ing like I was play­ing even though I wasn’t up and knew I wasn’t play­ing. I was in the film room an­swer­ing ques­tions like I was go­ing to be in there.

“Men­tally, I feel like I’m fine, that I’m go­ing to be good. But, ob­vi­ously, you can’t sim­u­late a game rep or prac­tice.”

Fill­ing in for Tre­vathan — who missed the Bears’ Week 5 loss to the Vik­ings be­cause of his one- game sus­pen­sion for his hit on Pack­ers wide re­ceiver Da­vante Adams — won’t be an easy task. Tre­vathan has been one of the Bears’ best play­ers with a team- high 52 tack­les, two sacks and an in­ter­cep­tion in seven games.

A fourth- round se­lec­tion last year, Kwiatkoski still is viewed as a de­fen­sive build­ing block. He just needs to stay on the field and prove it.

In­side line­backer, ar­guably the team’s deep­est po­si­tion, is the only level of the de­fense in which one of gen­eral man­ager Ryan Pace’s draft picks hasn’t ce­mented a start­ing po­si­tion. Safeties Ed­die Jack­son and Adrian Amos are re­spon­si­ble for five take­aways in the sec­ondary; out­side line­backer Leonard Floyd and nose tackle Ed­die Gold­man are stal­warts up front.

“[ Kwiatkoski’s] ar­row was re­ally go­ing up, up, up,” in­side lineback­ers coach Glenn Pires said last week. “We’re all dis­ap­pointed as much as he is [ with his in­jury].”

In the long run, Chris­tian Jones’ rise could prove to be ben­e­fi­cial for Kwiatkoski. It has al­lowed the team to be pa­tient with Kwiatkoski’s re­cov­ery. But Jones’ strong play in five starts also forces Kwiatkoski to be bet­ter in or­der to en­sure play­ing time.

Kwiatkoski was ac­tive against the Pan­thers and Saints, but he only took the field for one de­fen­sive snap against New Or­leans af­ter Tre­vathan strained his calf.

With Kwiatkoski watch­ing, the Bears’ de­fense evolved into one of the league’s best units. In the Bears’ last four games, the de­fense al­lowed an av­er­age of 16.8 points, forced eight take­aways and nd had 14 sacks.

Kwiatkoski ki doesn’t feel as if he’s step­ping into to a brand- new de­fense from when he last started in Week 2, but there is pres­sure to pro­duce.

“Ob­vi­ously, y, there are things that we’re do­ing bet­ter [ in games],” Kwiatkoski said. “But prepa­ra­tion ra­tion and prac­tice are all the same as be­fore.”

It’s sim­ply y time for Kwiatkoski to turn n his prepa­ra­tion into re­sults. ults.

Then again, in, it’s what the in­side lineback­ers neback­ers have done all sea­son since he and nd Jer­rell Free­man n ( torn chest mus­cle) were in­jured ed in the first two weeks.

“[ Kwiatkososki’s] watch­ing ng and see­ing ng guys play­ing ng well in front nt of him,” Pires es said. “He’s s got to be e ready to o play.”

Fol­low me e on Twit­ter r @ adam­jahns.

Nick Nick Kwiatkoski Kwiatkoski

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