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Bush, Kwiatkoski providing depth for Bears’ ‘D’

With Kwiatkoski’s help, Bush’s 91-yard interception-return TD sparks the preseason victory over the Colts.

Bears safety Deon Bush (26) reaches the end zone on a 91-yard interception return in the Bears 27-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
AP Photos

Bears safety Deon Bush came into the NFL as a noted thumper from Miami in 2016, but his timing wasn’t the best. With the NFL’s restrictions on dangerous hits in recent years, the kinds of plays Bush loves to make often are illegal.

Sure enough, the big hit Bush leveled on Colts receiver Zach Pascal in the first quarter Saturday night looked like a good hit to Bush but not to the NFL. He was called for lowering his head to initiate contact, a 15-yard penalty that gave the Colts a first down at the Bears’ 10-yard line. They scored on the following play.

“I honestly didn’t think it was a penalty,” Bush said. “But I’ve got to watch the film and see how it was. But I’m trying to not let that affect my game. I just have to try to aim lower, I guess. Hopefully I don’t get a penalty the next time.”

Bush can’t play quite the big-hitting game he’s used to playing, but it’s an adjustment he’s willing to make.

“You’ve got to be careful now — and I’ll definitely be careful,” he said. “The new rules they’ve installed, I respect them. I respect what they’re trying to do with the game — it’s about safety. So I’ve got to just be more cautious next time.”

Big hits are not the only part of Bush’s game. And as if to prove that point, Bush responded with a huge difference-making play — a 91-yard interception return for a touchdown after wresting the ball from rookie tight end Hale Hentges.

Linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski initially engaged Hentges after Hentges appeared to make the catch and Bush stripped the ball as he and Hentges fell to the ground. Bush got up and made a nice move along the sideline at the Colts’ 35 to find a path to the end zone. The play was upheld upon review, as it appeared Hentges might have been down.

“I’m kind of messed up, too, about what happened,” Bush said. “We were in quarters [coverage], and I guess they threw a short route and I saw Nick was working on the ball, so I just kind of put my hand in there and grabbed it.”

Kwiatkoski likewise only saw his end of the play. He thought it was an incomplete pass.

“I didn’t see that [Bush] had made the catch,” Kwiatkoski said. “I felt his arm, but when we went rolling [to the ground] I just knew the Colts receiver didn’t have the ball. I was saying, ‘incomplete.’ Next thing I knew, Deon jumped up and he was running towards the end zone.”

The ultimate value of big plays in preseason games dominated by reserves is reasonably questionable. But the production of Bush and Kwiatkoski is notable. Both are likely key backups who have starting experience.

“Nick’s a starting linebacker,” Bears inside linebackers coach Mark DeLeone said. “He may not be right now for us, but Nick’s a starting linebacker. He’s such a pro, and the way he works every day and gets better every day is a credit to him. He doesn’t worry about the noise — whether he was starting or not starting, all that stuff — he just gets better every single day. He’s a fun guy to coach.”

NOTE: Needing offensive-line depth after T.J. Clemmings hurt his right leg Saturday, the Bears claimed Northwestern alum Tommy Doles, who was on their roster earlier this year.