Even though the Chicago Bears already had two starting caliber inside linebackers in the fold, Roquan Smith figured to slide into a starting role immediately after the team picked him eighth overall in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Further, the expectation was for Nick Kwiatkoski to be the odd-man out and kept in a reserve role upon Smith’s arrival. But fast forward to July and there is a distinct possibility that Kwiatkoski won’t be the odd-man out over the long haul.
Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times views Kwiatkoski’s strong summer start as a sign that he belongs with the first-team defense. No argument here. Kwiatkoski’s excellence in practice with an increased workload of reps coupled with his 2017 performance that placed him among the league’s most underrated inside linebackers suggests he’s probably ready to take the jump as he enters his third year in the pros. Of course, Kwiatkoski locking up one starting spot creates an entirely different issue the defense would need to address.
For the sake of this exercise, let’s say Kwiatkoski has done enough to earn a starting gig. Should Kwiatkoski solidify his spot as a starter while Smith is sidelined due to a contract dispute, it would essentially create a new competition at inside linebacker – one between Smith and Danny Trevathan. Rookie versus veteran position battles are as old as the game itself, but this would be a bit different.
Trevathan, who’s been sidelined most of camp with a lingering hamstring injury, has been the Bears’ best inside linebacker since joining the team in 2016. In all likelihood, the team probably doesn’t want to part ways with someone who’s been consistently productive in the heart of the defense. But it’s worth pointing out that Trevathan has yet to play a full 16-game season in Chicago, missing a total of 12 games in the last two years due to various injuries. It’s also worth noting that Trevathan has two years remaining on the four-year deal he signed back in 2016 with $11.6 million in guarantees coming his way and a cap number of $7.15 million in 2018 and $7.65 million in 2019. I suppose it’s possible the Bears could want to part ways in a move that could create some salary cap space moving forward, while also going with a pair of younger linebackers in the process.
Pitting Smith against Trevathan could add some additional spice to training camp. And while the future of the position could fall on the shoulders of Smith and Kwiatkoski, several things would need to fall in place before that happens. Starting with Smith arriving at camp and Trevathan shaking the hamstring issues that have kept him out of training camp to this point.