Nick Kwiatkoski stepped to the podium after practice Saturday to speak to reporters about the strides he's made while working with the Bears' No. 1 defense in training camp.
When the Bears selected Roquan Smith with the eighth pick in the draft to pair with veteran Danny Trevathan at inside linebacker, it seemed highly unlikely that Kwiatkoski would be addressing the media or practicing with the first-team defense in Bourbonnais.
But with Trevathan sidelined since the start of training camp with a hamstring injury and Smith still unsigned as of Saturday, Kwiatkowski has made the most of an unexpected opportunity.
"Just from my past couple years, you never really know what's going to happen, so you can't really look ahead," Kwiatkoski said. "Coming out here every day, [my goals are] getting better as an individual, as a defense, and just building each day."
Kwiatkoski was selected by the Bears in the fourth round of the 2016 draft out of West Virginia. He has appeared in 25 games with 13 starts the past two seasons, recording 73 tackles, three sacks, four pass breakups and two forced fumbles.
The 6-2, 242-pounder showed his playmaking ability in Saturday's practice, intercepting a pass and recording what would have been a sack.
"[Kwiatkoski] is playing really well," said coach Matt Nagy. "You saw the pick today that he had. He's thumping people in the run game. I love his mentality. He didn't blink when we drafted Roquan. He stepped right on in there and put the horse blinders on and went after it. That's where we're at right now. I'm excited for him, I'm proud of him and I just want to keep that thing going."
Focused on improving his own game, Kwiatkoski isn't concerned about Smith's absence, though he understands his situation and hopes his teammate ends his holdout in the near future.
"He's handling what he has to handle," Kwiatkoski said. "We look forward to him coming back, but there's a lot of guys that are taking advantage of reps in the absence of people."
Nagy told reporters that there have not been any new developments with Smith.
"Right now, it's the same," said the Bears coach. "I know I keep saying it's part of the process. It is. We understand that, he understands that. We will continue to keep trying to do our best to make this thing happen.
"At the same time, what we need to do is we need to focus on who's here right now, right? That's the realism of it all. There's valuable reps that are going on with our guys. We appreciate all that hard work and effort because we're shorter with numbers, but we just keep going forward, we worry about what we can control as a team and we keep plugging away."
Nagy described the impasse as "more of a language-type deal."
"As a first-year head coach going through this, my thing is just collaborating with [general manager] Ryan [Pace] and what they have going on with the agent and making sure that we understand, together, I need to as a head coach just continue to keep plugging away with what we have and who we have.
"We'll eventually get that thing figured out. The biggest thing for our organization and for our players is for me to be focused on who's here right now, and that's what I'm doing."