Having never played linebacker before, anywhere, Nick Kwiatkoski was asked to do just that four years ago this spring.
No offseason training session will match that first one, when, armed with only a few weeks of film study, the redshirt freshman learned a new position and began remaking his body.
He’d entered West Virginia as a 6-2, 195-pound high school safety and wide receiver.
He left it, 48 pounds heavier, as the team’s leading tackler for his final three seasons.
Friday, the first of the Bears’ three fourth-round picks will participate in the first practice of a three-day rookie minicamp at Halas Hall.
“It’s important as a linebacker to know not just your position,” he said, “but everything that’s going on around you.”
It took Kwiatkoski a full season to feel comfortable at the position, but he played the middle, weak and strong-side spots in college, earning all-Big 12 honors and a captaincy as a senior.
“At first, getting into that film room to watch linebacker tape, it was weird,” he said. “It was right before spring ball, and it was a whole new thing, being close to the line of scrimmage, reacting a lot quicker, taking on blocks every play, being more involved in the run game.”
The Bears traded up four spots on Day 3, giving the Rams an extra sixth-round choice, to select Kwiatkoski No. 113 overall.
He won’t have the immediate opportunity of the team’s first three picks. Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, guard Cody Whitehair and defensive end Jonathan Bullard will contend for starting jobs. If Floyd doesn’t start, he’ll be utilized often in sub packages. Fourth-round safety Deon Bush and fifth-round running back Jordan Howard could carve out playing time, too.
Barring injury, though, Kwiatkoski will back up Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman — two of the Bears’ most notable free agent signees — at inside linebacker. He’ll have to make an impact on special teams.
“That’s going to be a big deal for me,” he said. “Special teams is something I’ve always enjoyed.”
GM Ryan Pace praised his linebacker instincts last month —“You can’t coach that; He just reacts so quick and attacks downhill,” he said — but his safety training gives him a good base for a pass-happy league.
“It helped me a lot, just covering running backs,” the Bethel Park, Penn., native said. “Small things, footwork-wise. I had a little experience in the past covering people. I just took some of the things I learned playing safety and implemented it a little bit into the linebacker position. That part of it, it can help.”
Kwiatkoski has at least one friend in his new city; he used to live two doors down from Bears receiver Kevin White, and spent last year rooming with his little brother, Ka’Raun, at West Virginia.
This week, he’s getting to know everyone else.
“The biggest thing is just to learn,” he said. “It’s a new defense, new scheme, new teammates, new everything. My biggest thing here is to learn the defense, to get comfortable in it and know what’s going on around me. “
NOTE: The Bears signed offensive lineman Adrian Bellard, an undrafted rookie from Texas State, and waived defensive back Anthony Jefferson.