At the end of his tenure with the Chicago Bears, former GM Jerry Angelo failed to adequately address depth at the linebacker position. This was particularly evident last season, as behind the starters there was no one with any significant experience.
Had Brian Urlacher or Lance Briggs fallen to injury, last year's club would have been forced to start either Jabara Williams, Patrick Trahan or Dom DeCicco. The drop off in talent, had that happened, would have been immense – enough to nearly shut down the defense.
Current GM Phil Emery recognized the lack of depth at linebacker and tried out five veterans this offseason. Geno Hayes, a four-year veteran with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, won the competition and was subsequently signed to a one-year deal. He is expected to challenge Roach – who failed to stand out in 2011, his first full year as the starter on the strong side – for playing time.
Hayes was the full-time starter for Tampa Bay on the weak side from 2009-2011. Yet he was benched for three games last year and was let go after his rookie contract expired.
LB Geno Hayes
Hayes vs. Roach will be one of the many camp battles soon to play out during Bears training camp. Let's go to the film room to get a better idea of what Hayes brings to the table.
-Great field vision against both the run and the pass. -Good agility in coverage. -Quick change-of-direction ability. -Decent speed for his position. -Experienced in nickel packages. -Willing to take on blocks and be disruptive on plays run right at him. -Reads and reacts well when he keeps his eyes in the backfield. -Breaks down well in the open field. -Great awareness in coverage. Understands responsibilities in zone sets.
-Too easily blocked when engaged by offensive linemen and tight ends. Fails to separate. -Not a physical player; more of a finesse linebacker. -Can be timid when defending the run, almost to the point of laziness. -Lacks aggressiveness. -Rarely finishes when blitzing. -When taking on lead blocks he tends to lower his head and loses sight of the ball. -Footwork is lacking when he tries to maneuver through traffic. -Bites hard on play fakes.
During last year's Bucs opener against the Detroit Lions, Hayes played one of his best games of the season. He finished the contest with eight tackles, his single-game high last year.
During the second quarter, on 1st and 10, the Lions ran a stretch play right with RB Jahvid Best. Hayes was playing on the weak side and read the play right away. He flew laterally down the line of scrimmage and scraped off a block, using his speed to blow past the offensive lineman. He then burst into the backfield and took Best down for two-yard loss.
On this play, Hayes demonstrated his read-and-react skills, as well as his speed and quickness. From sideline to sideline, he's a very strong player that has the burst to cut off backside run lanes.
Hayes was benched following last year's Week 7 game against the Bears in London. Two plays truly stood out. The first was a counter play run right at Hayes. He did well to read the play and stepped up as if he was going to set the edge against Matt Forte. Yet, instead of being physical and using his quickness, he sood flat-footed and allowed TE Matt Spaeth to seal him to the inside. The play went for a 29-yard gain.
Later in the drive, things got even worse for Hayes. On a stretch run right, Hayes again put himself in great position to shut the play down. But, like the previous play, he stood still and allowed Spaeth to seal him outside. Forte then blew past him, made a few more cuts and rambled for a 32-yard touchdown.
LB Geno Hayes
Kyle Terada/US Presswire
It was an extremely poor effort, leaving no question as to why the Bucs chose to bench him the next three weeks.
Pro Football Focus (PFF) recently published its Tackling Efficiency (TE) study for linebackers over the past three seasons. It's a simple formula:
Solo Tackles + Assists + Misses / Missed Tackles = TE
According to PFF, no other linebacker missed more tackles (38) than Hayes over the past three seasons. His TE rating of 7.2 – or one missed tackle for every seven attempts – is second worst in the league during that timeframe.
On film, it's easy to see why Hayes has a penchant for missed tackles. While he's very good at reading plays, his lack of toughness at the point of attack leads to all kinds of mistakes. He breaks down well but doesn't utilize his quickness to beat opposing linemen, and fails to consistently explode into blockers. At the same time, he has a tendency to drop his head, thus taking his eyes off the ball carrier.
Interesting to note, the PFF study graded Roach with an 8.2 TE, 10th worst in the league over the past three years. This might lead some to believe the winner of the upcoming training camp competition between Roach and Hayes will be nothing more than the lesser of two evils.
Hayes is not a perfect player by any means but his experience and diagnostic skills are impressive. He's a quality cover linebacker that has played in the Tampa 2 his entire career – which holds a lot of value in Chicago's system.
With Hayes, it appears his on-field mistakes come more fromna lack of effort than anything else. He has the intelligence and athleticism to play linebacker in the NFL but his mental lapses are hard to overlook.
In Tampa Bay, he was considered soft. While I wouldn't go that far, there are points on film where he appears to hope someone else will make the play. That kind of effort won't fly under the watchful eyes of Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.
The physical tools are all there, now it's time for him to add some aggressiveness. If the Bears can motivate Hayes and get him to play up to his potential, he could be a quality player on the strong side.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.