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No holding back: LB Nick Kwiatkoski proving he belongs with Bears’ No. 1 defense

BOURBONNAIS — If inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski could replicate Saturday’s practice in an actual game, he’d be the toast of the town.

He read the play and the eyes of the quarterback — in this case, Mitch Trubisky’s. Locked in, Kwiatkoski leaped at Trubisky’s throw, tipped the ball to himself for an interception, then raced into the end zone.

In an actual game, it would be a highlight-reel pick-six. For now, it’s another sign of how well Kwiatkoski fits in the middle of coordinator Vic Fangio’s defense. He intercepted Trubisky in similar fashion earlier in camp.

“I just want to take advantage of the opportunity and get better each day,” Kwiatkoski said.

Bears inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski. (AP)

Rookie Roquan Smith’s contract holdout and Danny Trevathan’s ailing hamstring shouldn’t detract from Kwiatkoski’s impressive training camp. The Bears don’t view Kwiatkoski, a fourth-round selection in 2016, as the third wheel in their inside-linebacker competition. He has been in charge of the first-team defense since the first day of camp.

“I don’t necessarily know if he’s No. 3,” coach Matt Nagy said. “You say that, but I told you this at the beginning: ‘You’ve got to earn your spot.’ [Kwiatkoski] is playing really well. You saw the pick [Saturday] that he had. He’s thumping people in the run game. I love his mentality.”

He appears to have found his voice in his third season. Kwiatkoski is comfortable being in command of the calls and signals for Fangio’s defense. Throughout camp, he has maintained order against Nagy’s multilook offense.

“It’s just getting that experience,” Kwiatkoski said. “Getting the repetitions, it builds confidence.”

Overall, Kwiatkoski’s pairing with John Timu has proved to be functional and also quite encouraging, especially because of the defense’s overall success against Nagy’s offense. Timu is more than a capable reserve and special-teams stalwart.

“I don’t look at it as I’m a starter,” Timu said. “I’m just filling in for [Trevathan] for when he gets back. It’s more of a fill-in role.

“But at the same time, I’m just taking advantage of the opportunities, to be able to go against the [first team], work on my technique and master it with the best guys out there. It feels good, but I’m still remaining humble.”

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Kwiatkoski is, too. He smiles and shrugs off his big plays.

“It’s early in camp,” he said. “I’ve been through a couple of camps now, and you never know what can happen.”

But Kwiatkoski is giving the Bears what they want: true competition for Smith and Trevathan. He’s winning right now, too.

“He didn’t blink when we drafted Roquan,” Nagy said. “He stepped right on in there and put the horse blinders on and went after it. . . . I’m excited for him; I’m proud of him.”

Want your Bears training camp update without delay? Each day of summer practice, Sun-Times Bears’ beat writers Patrick Finley, Adam Jahns and Mark Potash will share exclusive insights on the workout and interviews in a livestream conversation 1 p.m. daily through August 12. Catch their live analysis and ask questions on Twitter: @suntimes_sports or follow Sun-Times Sports on Periscope to be notified of each live report.