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