The Chicago Bears’ first training camp practice open to the public has come and gone. And with training camp underway and the team’s August 2 debut at the Hall of Fame Game around the corner, let’s take an early look at who’s on the team right now.
Today: Inside linebackers
The Starters: Danny Trevathan (89 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 1 interception, 84.7 Pro Football Focus grade), Roquan Smith (90.8 college grade)
The Reserves: Nick Kwiatkoski, Joel Iyiegbuniwe, John Timu, Josh Woods, Elijah Norris, Ro’Derrick Hoskins.
Potential Training Camp Star: This should have been Roquan Smith, and I suppose it still could be. But Smith’s holdout-related absence opens the door for Nick Kwiatkoski to open some more eyes. He already has one highlight-reel play in the books with a tip and interception of a Mitch Trubisky pass that occurred last Sunday. Kwiatkoski has been the team’s top reserve linebacker the last two years, and has gained quality starting experience in the process. Kwiatkoski flew under the radar as one of the best at the position in 2017, but that won’t continue if he keeps this up. And as long as Smith is out of the lineup, Kwiatkoski will be the beneficiary of additional practice reps until further notice.
We Really Like: The Bears inside linebacker corps has three players with NFL starting experience, a top-10 pick, and a fourth-round rookie who probably should have been drafted earlier than he was selected. So if all goes right, we’re looking at a group with four or five players who could be worthy of starting at the NFL level. That’s what unenviable depth looks like, and it’s something this defense needs in order to succeed.
We Might Be Worried About: Smith’s contract situation is leaving us a bit uneasy. The agency that represents Smith also represented Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa, who was the last lengthy big-name holdout as a draft pick. The Bears have an early start to camp and a fifth preseason game, so it’s not like there isn’t time for Smith to play catch-up. But at some point, missing practices, reps, meetings, and bonding time with his teammates is going put Smith behind the eight-ball.
2018 Forecast: Beyond Smith’s contract status, health will be key in what could be a successful season from the inside linebackers. Danny Trevathan has missed 11 games in the last two seasons, while Kwiatkoski missed five last season. If those two are healthy, the Bears’ collection of inside linebackers will be tough to beat.