The broken leg suffered by Kevin White sent out devastating ripples in all directions, most of all to a young wide receiver just beginning to develop.
For rookie linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, it was a cruel blow to a friend.
The two were teammates at West Virginia, and after White left via the 2015 draft, Kwiatkoski stayed close with White’s family and lived with his brother. When the Bears drafted Kwiatkoski in the fourth round this year, White was ecstatic that “Kwit” was going to be a teammate again.
Then came last Sunday, something of a breakthrough game for Kwiatkowski at the same time as his friend was going down, possibly for the remainder of the season.
“I was really close to him and you just hate to see that, especially after last year [which White missed with a stress fracture],” Kwiatkoski said, shaking his head. “It hurts. I want the best for Kevin and I know his drive, what a competitor he is, and to see that happen to him, it really hurts.”
Kwiatkoski has had to navigate his own comeback from injury, missing virtually all of training camp with a hamstring tear that only let him get into the final preseason game. Kwiatkoski was able to get on the field for 28 of 59 snaps against the Cleveland Browns, albeit not starting and being against a lot of players who are no longer in NFL helmets. Then came two weeks on the inactive list to start the regular season.
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That changed when Danny Trevathan suffered a thumb injury, the defense was scrambling for something at inside linebacker, and Kwiatkoski had his opportunity. He started at Dallas, playing 18 snaps (26 percent) against the Cowboys, then was effectively moved ahead of Jonathan Anderson, Christian Jones and John Timu on the depth chart and was in on 44 of 63 snaps against the Detroit Lions.
The Dallas game was a rough initiation, with the Cowboys running all over the Bears defense. But it was a developmental step for Kwiatkoski.
“Just getting that first one out of the way was big,” Kwiatkoski said, admitting, “First NFL game, there’s nerves. But [preparing for Detroit] was just another week of preparation. I went in and saw what I did wrong that first game, and took the week to correct it.”
The highlight of that correction process came with a one-on-one stop of Lions running back Dwayne Washington, in the hole for a one-yard loss. Kwiatkoski added another assisted tackle in the Bears’ 17-14 win.
“I thought Kwiatkoski did a good job the other night considering it was his first real playing time in a game, more playing time than he had in Dallas,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “I thought he did OK for a young guy that missed most of camp.”
Trevathan may be back for Sunday’s game in Indianapolis against the Colts. He practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and Thursday, with his surgically repaired thumb encased in a plastic guard that will limit some of his abilities to use his hands.
One measure of Kwiatkoski’s progress in Trevathan’s absence was his use in nickel packages vs. Detroit, indicative of development in pass coverage. With teams playing with nickel personnel more than half the time, Kwiatkoski’s performance was crucial.
“Sometimes those guys are pretty wide-eyed when they go out there for their first NFL experience,” Bears head coach John Fox said. “And it was no different with Nick. Not that he was awful by any stretch. But it started a little slow for him [at Dallas]. And I think he started much faster this last opportunity.”