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Bears position breakdown: The inside linebackers

Seventh in a position-by-position series of training-camp capsules on every player on the Bears’ 90-man roster. The Bears open training camp on Friday at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais.

No. 59 Danny Trevathan

Seventh season
6-1, 239 pounds
Kentucky

Acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2016.

Age: 28

The Bears drafted rookie linebacker eighth. (AP)

NFL experience: 71 games (52 starts) in six seasons with the Broncos and Bears.

Background: A sixth-round draft pick (188th overall) by the Broncos in 2012, Trevathan made the team as a rookie on special teams and became a 16-game starter the following season. After missing most of the 2014 season with a knee injury, Trevathan was the leading tackler (109) on the Broncos’ Super Bowl 50 championship team. Solid but not spectacular with the Bears in 2016, when he missed seven games because of injuries. Recovered from a ruptured patellar tendon to become a bigger factor in 2017, with five games of 10-plus tackles. 

Notable: The Bears were 5-7 when Trevathan played last season (5-5 after the first two games, when he was coming off knee surgery), and 0-4 when he did not.

The skinny: After an impressive recovery from knee surgery last year, Trevathan is expected to hit the ground running this year. Expectations are high considering the circumstances: He’s in his prime at 28, in his seventh year in the NFL, in his third year in Vic Fangio’s defense and with a better supporting cast. Staying healthy is a big key.

No. 44 Nick Kwiatkoski

Third season
6-2, 242 pounds
West Virginia

Acquired: Fourth-round draft pick (114th overall) in 2016.

Age: 25

NFL experience: 25 games (13 starts) in two seasons with the Bears.

Background: A productive tackler at West Virginia, Kwiatkoski started seven games for Jerrell Freeman (suspension) and Danny Trevathan (injury) as a rookie and was better at the end than at the beginning. Started in Week 2 last season but suffered a pectoral injury and missed five games. Returned and started five of the last seven games. Finished with 47 tackles, two sacks, two pass break-ups and two tackles-for-loss.

Notable: Kwiatkoski had sacks in back-to-back games vs. the Packers and Lions and had eight, seven and eight tackles as a starter in the final three games of the season.

The skinny: The addition of first-round pick Roquan Smith figures to bump Kwiatkoski from a starter role to a back-up role in 2018. It’s likely on a matter of time before Smith takes control of that position. But until he does, Kwiatkoski is a nice option to have at that position.

No. 58 Roquan Smith

First year
6-1, 236 pounds
Georgia

Acquired: First-round draft pick (eighth overall) in 2018.

Age: 21

NFL experience: None.

Background: A four-star recruit who chose Georgia over UCLA, Smith became a starter as a true sophomore in 2016 and blossomed into a star as a weakside linebacker in Georgia’s 3-4 defense in 2017 — with 137 tackles, 14 tackles-for-loss, 6.5 sacks and one forced fumble. Won the Butkus Award as the nation’s best linebacker and was 10th in the Heisman Trophy voting. Turned pro with one year of eligibility remaining.

Notable: Smith was the MVP of the SEC championship game against Auburn — 13 tackles (10 solo), one sack, one TFL and two fumble recoveries; he was the defensive MVP of the Rose Bowl vs. Oklahoma — 11 tackles and a half-sack.

The skinny: With his ability to go sideline-to-sideline, cover receivers downfield and blitz, Smith is considered a great fit for the Bears’ defense. Biggest question is how quickly he acclimates himself — even Urlacher was beaten out by Rosevelt Colvin as a rookie in 2000 before moving to middle linebacker. But Smith learns well, has diversified skills and is joining a top-10 defense. He should be a big hit fairly quickly.

No. 52 Jonathan Anderson

Fourth year
6-1, 237 pounds
Texas Christian

Acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2015.

Age: 26

NFL experience: 31 games (three starts) in three seasons with the Bears.

Background: Made the practice squad as a rookie and ended cup playing 11 games and starting three in 2015 — 40 tackles (31 solo), one interception, five pass break-ups and two tackles-for-loss. Has played mostly special teams the past two seasons. Was fourth on the team with six special teams tackles last year in 12 games.

Notable: Anderson showed a knack for being around the ball when he played on defense as a rookie. He had an interception in his NFL debut vs. the Lions. Had 11 tackles in a victory over the Chargers.

The skinny: With the addition of Roquan Smith and Joel Iyiegbuniwe in the draft, Anderson faces his toughest challenge yet to make this roster as an inside linebacker. A former college safety, he does have some position versatility — and he could be a candidate for the Christian Jones jack-of-all-trades role.

No. 53 John Timu

Fourth year
6-0, 245 pounds
Washington

Acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2015.

Age: 24

NFL experience: 29 games (nine starts) in three seasons with the Bears.

Background: Made the team as a long shot in 2015 and started the final three games (25 tackles) after spending 10 weeks on the practice squad. Opened the 2016 season on the practice squad but started in Week 4 in place of Danny Trevathan (thumb) and started three games in Weeks 13-15 when Trevathan suffered a season-ending knee injury. Opened last season on the practice squad but played in 11 games with two starts.

Notable: Though not an imposing player, Timu has shown a knack for big plays. He had two fumble recoveries vs. the Buccaneers in 2015 and a big third-down stop at the goal line to save a 17-14 victory over the Lions in 2016. He had two tackles-for-loss in 135 defensive snaps last year.

The skinny: Timu has been dependable and productive enough to warrant a shot at a back-up spot. With the upgrades at his position, he’s in a tough spot to make the roster. But he’s not a bad option if somebody gets hurt.

No. 45 Joel Iyiegbuniwe

Fourth year
6-1, 230 pounds
Western Kentucky

Acquired: Fourth-round draft pick (115th overall) in 2018.

Age: 22

NFL experience: None.

Background: Two-star recruit who played on four games as a senior in high school and signed with Western Kentucky — his only FBS offer. Two-year starter who had 10 tackles-for-loss (3.5 sacks as a sophomore at outside linebacker in 2016 and 116 tackles, 11 tackles-for-loss (two sacks) as a junior at inside linebacker in 2017, when he earned first-team all-CUSA honors. Declared for the draft with a year of eligibility remaining. Name is pronounced Jo-EL EE-yay-boo-NEE-way.

Notable: Iyiegbuniwe played on the punt team at Western Kentucky the previous three seasons and also has experience on the kickoff team and kickoff return team.

The skinny: “Iggy” is efficiently athletic, strong and physical, but likely needs a lot of work on fundamentals and technique to be a factor as a linebacker at the NFL level. His biggest role as a rookie figures to be on special teams. But he learns well, so he’s worth watching on defense.

No. 55 Josh Woods

First year
6-1, 204 pounds
Maryland

Acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent 2018.

Age: 22

NFL experience: None.

Background: A standout wide receiver/cornerback in high school, Woods was recruited to Maryland as a defensive back. He played mostly special teams for two seasons. He started five games at safety as a junior in 2016, but struggled at times and was benched down the stretch. Started nine games at safety in 2017 and had 62 tackles, 4.5 tackles-for-loss, four pass breakups, two interceptions and a forced fumble. He signed with the Bears after a tryout at the veteran mini-camp in June.

Notable: Woods had 11 tackles, including two TFLs vs Ohio State and had three pass break-ups vs. Clayton Thorson and Northwestern last season. He ran a 4.68 40 at Maryland’s pro day.

The skinny: Woods comes to camp with a modest resume, but he took a big step as a leader and player last year, and there’s always at least a little intrigue with college safeties moving down to linebacker. Still, he’s a long shot even to get a practice squad spot.

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