Is Nick Kwiatkoski Ready?

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 04: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick
CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 04: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick /

Nick Kwiatkoski gets the start at linebacker for the Chicago Bears replacing Jerrell Freeman. Is he ready to take the next step?

Injuries are nothing new for this Chicago Bears’ team. There has been a constant stream of them for the past couple of seasons, and 2016 was like something out of a football horror movie. With a new season, fans hoped their key players would mostly stay on the field this year.

After the week one loss to the Atlanta Falcons, there were two key injuries that surfaced. Kevin White suffered yet another injury and will miss the season and more importantly, Jerrell Freeman tore his pectoral muscle and was also placed on IR.

There is some hope that Freeman will return this season, although John Fox called his status “murky.” The truth is, it appears that Freeman’s injury typically takes five to six months to recover which of course, would mean his 2017 season is over.

Enter Nick Kwiatkoski. Kwiatkoski was Ryan Pace’s fourth-round selection in the 2016 NFL draft. He spent his college days at West Virginia where he was a three-year starter and quite the tackling machine. He also led the team in tackles for losses while leading the team in overall tackles every year he was a starter.

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Quite simply, Kwiatkoski is a “football player.” He isn’t the flashiest or most athletic, but he’s a smart player that has a nose for the football and does a good job navigating through traffic to get to the play.

Last season, when Danny Trevathan was declared out for the year, Kwiatkoski earned more playing time and started seven games. Over the last five games of the season, he tallied 33 tackles and recorded a sack. Over a 16 game season, that’s would make him a 100-tackle linebacker, which is always the benchmark of solid linebacker play.

Assuming Freeman is out for the year, Kwiatkoski is going to have basically an entire season as a starter to establish himself as a legitimate NFL linebacker. He has large shoes to fill. Freeman was one of the best linebackers in the league last year and has quickly become a leader for Chicago. He will be missed but can Kwiatkoski fill the void?

If you ask, Kwiatkoski, he certainly seems ready:

"Not having a preseason hurt, especially coming into my rookie year. I didn’t really know what to expect. It all happened fast last year. But the growth I’ve had since then, getting some experience and doing the things I did last year, I feel so much better and much more comfortable. It’s a lot different this year. Just being able to do camp this year and getting the experience I did in the preseason, I definitely feel way more ahead of the game than I did last year."

While no team could really survive the number of injuries the Chicago Bears faced last season, the one thing that was certain was that they didn’t have the depth to handle the losses. Good teams are deep teams. Injuries are unavoidable in football and teams must have player season ready to step in and perform almost as well as the player they replaced.

With the development Kwiatkoski has shown, he appears ready to step up and prove he’s an NFL-caliber linebacker. He’s not the fastest linebacker in the world, but he has shown that he can read and react quickly and beat blockers to the point of attack. That’s critical for someone like Kwiatkoski who may not be able to muscle his way through blockers. He also will be relied on more in pass coverage, something he did well at West Virginia (ten passes defended in his final season).

It’s now time Kwiatkoski puts his skills and his development to the test as he steps into the Bears’ starting lineup. Is he ready to step up and fill Freeman’s void? We should have that answer on Sunday shortly after 1pm Eastern time.