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‘He could start anywhere’: Bears LB Danny Trevathan believes in Nick Kwiatkoski

DENVER — Rookie linebacker Roquan Smith alters many aspects of the Bears’ defensive plans, but don’t count out Nick Kwiatkoski.

That’s what Danny Trevathan, one of coach Matt Nagy’s veteran leaders, wants everyone to know.

“A lot of people don’t give Nick the credit he deserves,” Trevathan said.

The Bears certainly saw a difference in Kwiatkoski in Bourbonnais, whether it was handling the calls with Trevathan sidelined or intercepting quarterback Mitch Trubisky twice in impressive leaping fashion.

Bears linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski gets after Broncos running back David Williams in coverage. | David Zalubowski/AP

Bears linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski gets after Broncos running back David Williams in coverage. | David Zalubowski/AP

Kwiatkoski took advantage of the opportunity that Smith’s 29-day holdout provided — not to mention Trevathan’s own absence because of a hamstring injury early in camp — and didn’t miss a beat in the middle of the defense. He simply feels different being in his third season with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and inside linebackers coach Glenn Pires.

“I felt myself at times playing slow, which over the years, that has gotten very minimal,” said Kwiatkoski, who is expected to start with Trevathan against the Broncos on Saturday. “Just really that first year, [it was] playing slow, thinking about stuff, thinking too much. Even if I was right, I was just overthinking that. Things like that, it’s hard to get past.”

But Kwiatkoski is past it now. He might not be the athlete Smith is, but 13 starts in his first two seasons and a strong showing at Olivet Nazarene University give him something to build on.

Trevathan also said that Kwiatkoski’s skill set shouldn’t be overlooked.

“He’s smart; he’s instinctive,” Trevathan said. “He could play anywhere in this league, man. He could start anywhere. Just having him out there, there’s no drop-off [with] the defense at all. He’s out there; he’s communicating; he’s making plays. And when No. 44’s out there, you’re going to know it.”

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Kwiatkoski does pack a physical punch. Just ask the Bears’ running backs who tried to block him in camp. It’s one reason why there appears to be a role for him even if Smith becomes a game-changing starter early on for the Bears.

When asked if there could be packages that feature all three inside linebackers, Trevathan put his finger to his mouth and shushed. All three players are capable in coverage, especially in the right matchups, but they’re also effective blitzers.

“You never know, man, but we’ve got some athletes,” Trevathan said. “We’ve got some dogs. We’ve got some people that hit and love this defense and fly around at LB. . . . I’m sure we have something.”

Until Fangio reveals that “something” in a game, there’s a focus on the competition between Kwiatkoski and Smith.

“That’s what the NFL is; it’s all competition,” Kwiatkoski said. “Everyone out there is trying to get better. Everyone out there is trying to be the best that they can be, so that’s not going to change.”