The Chicago Bears are currently without both of their Week 1 starting inside linebackers.
Jerrell Freeman is suspended and Danny Trevathan is on IR, meaning fourth-round rookie Nick Kwiatkoski has been the team's starter at ILB the past two weeks.
To get a better feel for Kwiatkoski's strengths and weaknesses as the club's MIKE linebacker, I broke down All-22 game film from the last two contests against the Tennessee Titans and San Francisco 49ers. Here's what I found.
This snap will be an A-gap run that 49ers RB Carlos Hyde will bounce outside. Kwiatkoski (blue) is lined up in the A gap, directly across from Hyde.
Kwiatkoski does a good job of helping fill the interior gap, closing off the run lane for Hyde, who is forced to swing the play outside.
Kwiatkoski hesitates inside as the ball carrier cuts outside. Hyde is able to beat the defender to the corner.
Kwiatkoski lands on his face as he's unable to bring down Hyde, who picks up 8 yards on the play.
This is the first play of the following drive. It is almost an exact replica of the previous play, with Kwiatkoski lined up across from Hyde, who will bounce the run outside left.
Kwiatkoski again does a good job of shutting down the interior run lane, which will force Hyde to cut outside.
This time, Kwiatkoski does not hesitate. Instead, he fires to the corner and wraps up Hyde after a short gain. This snap shows in-game progress and development from the rookie, who learned from his mistake the previous drive.
On this snap, Hyde will cross the face of the quarterback and run off-tackle right. Kwiatkoski (blue) is lined up on the weak side.
Kwiatkoski is locked up at the point of attack, with the interior offensive lineman wrapping him up at the second level.
Kwiatkoski sinks his hips and uses his upper body strength to absorb the contact and then shed the block.
Kwiatkoski dumps the blocker (yellow) and then delivers a shot into the ball carrier's chest.
The 49ers run an end around on this snap, with the left guard (red) pulling right to lead the play.
At this point, Kwiatkoski needs to fight through the outside shoulder of the pulling lineman and force the ball carrier to cut back inside, where he has help in the form of fellow ILB John Timu (orange).
Instead, Kwiatkoski shoots underneath the block, creating a huge running lane toward the numbers.
Kwiatkoski doesn't have the proper angle to cutoff the corner and cannot take down the ball carrier, who sprints forward for a 17-yard gain. This was a shortcut Kwiatkoski should not have taken.
This is a pistol handoff up the middle. Kwiatkoski will blitz the A gap.
Kwiatkoski sidesteps a block attempt and crashes into the backfield.
Kwiatkoski breaks down and wraps up the running back, dropping him for a 1-yard loss.
On this snap, 49ers QB Blaine Gabbert will scramble left to the far sideline. Kwiatkoski is in zone coverage in the middle of the field.
Kwiatkoski tracks Gabbert as he sprints to the sideline.
As Gabbert slows up to release the pass, so does Kwiatkoski, who is able to reach back and knock the ball away. This was a very athletic play, showing good field awareness and recognition by the rookie.
On this snap, Kwiatkoski will blitz off the C gap, crashing inside toward the quarterback.
San Francisco's right guard locks up Kwiatkoski, who is able to maintain his momentum through contact.
Kwiatkoski uses a rip move to power through the block and shed the guard.
The pressure forces a hurried throw from Gabbert, which Kwiatkoski is able to knock down.
This is a goal-line draw play by Titans RB Demarco Murray, who will try to bounce this play outside.
Kwiatkoski shuffles inside and, alongside Trevathan, shuts down the interior run lane. This forces Murray to swing it wide.
Kwiatkoski quickly changes directions, beats Murray to the corner and delivers a powerful hit to prevent the touchdown.
Kwiatkoski has all the makings of a solid long-term inside linebacker for the Bears. He plays downhill football and brings a high level of physicality and fearlessness to the position.
He's also intelligent on the field and shows good vision when tracking ball carriers.
Kwiatkoski doesn't have ideal speed and is limited in man coverage. He also struggles to fight off blocks once locked up with opposing offensive linemen. It's an area in which he must improve.
Overall, the fourth-round rookie has shown the toughness and on-field smarts to give the coaching staff confidence to slot him as a starter when necessary going forward. And if he ever learns how to power through block attempts, Kwiatkoski has "tackling machine" potential.null