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Preparation is key to Kwiatkoski's success

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The Bears want all of their backups to prepare as if they're starting, just in case they have to replace an injured teammate during a game.

No one does a better job of that than inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, who has excelled in two contests this year in place of a starter.

"It's preparation," said defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. "We ask them all to come in and prepare like starters and 'Kwit' is a guy that does that. He's kind of the poster child for that guy."

When Roquan Smith was unable to play in a Week 4 game against the Vikings, Kwiatkoski stepped in and helped lead the Bears to a 16-6 win. The fourth-year pro topped the defense with 10 tackles while also registering one sack, one forced fumble and two tackles-for-loss in the Sept. 29 victory at Soldier Field.

Called upon once again last Sunday—also versus a division rival in Chicago—Kwiatkoski came through again. After Danny Trevathan exited with an elbow injury late in the first quarter, Kwiatkoski recorded nine tackles, his first career interception, one sack and one tackle-for-loss in a 20-13 win over the Lions.

"It's a great example for any of the other guys that are sitting in a backup role right now and play a major role on special teams; how to be a pro, how to go about your business day-in and day-out when your number's called," Pagano said. "He's sure stepped up and done a great job for us." 

Kwiatkoski's performance against the Lions earned him the "Sweep the Sheds Award," which is presented by the Bears to one player after every win this season. The award consists of a metal broom and bear's head and is given to a player who is not too big to do the little things.

"Sweep the Sheds" comes from a book entitled "Legacy," which details lessons espoused by New Zealand's highly-successful national rugby team known as the "All Blacks." As part of their culture, All Blacks players clean up after themselves in their locker room—literally sweeping the sheds—as a show of humility.

Kwiatkoski helped swing the momentum in the Bears' favor against the Lions when he intercepted a Jeff Driskel pass and returned it four yards to the Detroit 25 early in the third quarter. The Bears converted the takeaway into Mitchell Trubisky's 24-yard touchdown pass to Taylor Gabriel, extending their lead to 20-6. 

"The interception was huge," Pagano said. "It was a great play. And all the tackles that he made. The call that he got the sack on, we put that in right before the game. We had run it before in the season, but with the change at quarterback (Lions starter Matthew Stafford was a late scratch due to a back injury), we added a couple of things and the guys went out there and executed it to a T."

The Bears have not revealed how long they expect Trevathan to be out, but the veteran's status isn't going to affect Kwiatkoski.

"For me, it's business as usual," said Kwiatkoski, a 2016 fourth-round draft pick who is in the final year of his rookie contract. "I'm preparing like I'm going to play. I've been in that situation before and it's better to have that mindset going in so nothing really catches you by surprise. 

"As a linebacker room, we all take pride in our preparation. Pretty much the whole defense does, but just being in the linebacker room, I see it firsthand how we all prepare. Guys who aren't even active for some games are preparing like they're going to be starting."

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