ARLINGTON, Texas — Bears linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski is an unknown, but the Bears are about to find out what they’ve got.
Kwiatkoski, a fourth-round draft pick from West Virginia, missed most of training camp with a hamstring injury he suffered on the first day in pads. He played only in the fourth preseason game against the Browns — not exactly a valued NFL proving ground. And he was inactive for the first two regular-season games.
But that will change Sunday night, when Kwiatkoski starts for Danny Trevathan, who is out indefinitely after undergoing surgery to repair torn ligaments in his thumb. It’s a surprise move, considering Kwiatkoski’s little on-field experience. Jonathan Anderson, who started three games last year, was presumed to be the next man up.
But Kwiatkoski is ready for the challenge — as ready as a rookie can be, anyway.
“I feel comfortable,” Kwiatkoski said this week. “The biggest thing is staying on top of things while I was injured. I feel like I did that.
“I feel I’m ready. Whatever happens, happens. i can’t really expect things that happen unexpectedly throughout a season or throughout a game. So you always have to be ready.”
Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was encouraged by Kwiatkoski’s performance against the Browns.
“He played well in that game,” Fangio said. “Now it was a game where there were not a lot of starters playing. But with his opportunties [28 snaps] he did a good job. He knew what to do, which is always important, and did it well when he had his chances. We blitzed him one time [and he ran over a running back to pressure the quarterback]. He did a nice job rushing the passer.”
Kwiatkoski said he made good use of the time he was sitting out to learn the Bears’ defense and make the most of mental reps as he watched practice and the preseason and regular-season games. “Getting in the playbook and staying in there mentally because I couldn’t play physically,” he said. “I thin that improved.”
The Bears drafted Kwiatkoski in part for his football instincts and awareness and ability to adapt quickly. They apparently were intrigued enough by what they saw against the Browns in the preseason and in practice the past three weeks to see if Kwitakoski can learn as quickly on the field in a a real game.
Though Kwiatkoski goes into his first NFL game as an unknown, he has the advantage of starting his career in Vic Fangio’s defense. Fangio has a history of recognizing talent and utilizing it.
“I look at it as a great opportunity — a proven scheme,” Kwiatkoski said. “I’m takng every opportunity as I can, just learn it as best I can. It’s a good thing [to be in Fangio’s defense]. I feel like since OTAs, it’ been laid out for us. It’s there for us.”