The Bears would ideally go through the 2017 season without any significant injuries, but that's not the reality of a sport as violent as football.
As the team scrambles to find replacemensts for Cameron Meredith and Kevin White, though, they can feel confident in the guy who will step in for inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman.
That shouldn’t make Freeman’s torn pectoral muscle any less disappointing, given he was voted a team captain and was the Bears’ most productive tackler (10) against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. It’s unlikely Nick Kwiatkoski will be better than Freeman, a six-year veteran with 70 career starts.
But it’s also unlikely Kwiatkoski will be significantly worse than Freeman. He may be just as good by the end of the year.
“He'll play a big role, and I have all the confidence that he'll do fine,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “He came along last year as he played more and more. He's had a good camp for us this year and I have confidence in him to go in there and do a good job and nothing will change.”
Coming from Fangio, whose press conferences have a no-B.S., honest tone to them, that’s high praise. The Bears liked what they saw from Kwiatkoski last year, when he filled in for an injured Danny Trevathan for the final seven games of the season and totaled 32 tackles, two pass breakups, one sack and one forced fumble.
“I think I feel a lot better about Nick right now than I probably I did in that Dallas game (his NFL debut) last season,” coach John Fox said.
Kwiatkoski said he’s making decisions quicker and playing faster his second year in the league. Despite a concussion he suffered in August, Kwiatkoski participated in more of training camp this year than he did in 2016, which has helped him get ahead of the curve, too.
“It’s a lot different this year,” Kwiatkoski said. “Just being able to do camp this year and getting the experience I did in the preseason, I definitely way ahead of the game than I did last year.”
Kwiatkoski will parachute into a front seven that limited the Falcons’ dynamic duo of running backs — Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman — to 53 yards on 20 carries in Week 1. Against a Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense without suspended running back Doug Martin, stopping the run will be key in the Bears’ efforts to pressure quarterback Jameis Winston and, ideally, force throws into coverage that could be picked off.
“He’s ready,” Trevathan said. “It’s going to moving fast, but he’s a young guy who’s going to be ready.”