Roach started the final nine games of '08 alongside Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs at strong-side linebacker, even though he's a bit undersized to play that position at 6-1 and 234 pounds. Lovie Smith's version of the Cover 2 puts a premium on smaller and quicker defenders, especially at the play-making positions in the front seven, but the strong-side 'backer is better off being a little bigger and stronger since he's supposed to hold the point of attack against the run – it's up to Urlacher and Briggs to roam sideline to sideline and make most of the tackles. All too often, Roach was swallowed by guards and tackles and unable to shed blocks quickly enough, notably against the Packers in a 37-3 embarrassment at Green Bay when Ryan Grant ran for 145 yards and averaged 5.8 yards per carry along the way.
With the more experienced Pisa Tinoisamoa now expected to take over as the third starter next to Urlacher and Briggs, look for Roach to play a leading role on special teams since Dave Toub is still searching for the next Brendon Ayanbadejo.
LB Hunter Hillenmeyer
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Waived in training camp by the Packers in 2003 after being selected in the fifth round of the NFL Draft, the former Vanderbilt Commodore signed with the rival Bears and was in the starting lineup full-time the very next year. His statistics never jumped off the page and his resume doesn't feature a lot of highlight-reel plays, but he understands the defensive scheme as well as anyone, always stays true to his assignment even if it means being blasted by a pair of offensive linemen, and allows Urlacher and Briggs to get most of the accolades and all of the glory. The two Pro Bowlers understand how valuable Hillenmeyer has been to their own success on Sunday, although there's two things a strong-side linebacker is asked to do from time to time that he simply can't do very well: rush the passer and cover the tight end.
Since Tinoisamoa is more of a playmaker and Hillenmeyer doesn't do much on special teams, don't be surprised if the veteran is pink-slipped before the start of the season – especially since he has no pro-rated signing bonus left on his contract.Michael Okwo, Williams was one of two linebackers drafted in part because he could possibly take over for Briggs should he have left Chicago in free agency.
But with Briggs signed to a long-term extension this past offseason and just authoring his fourth straight Pro Bowl performance, Williams has been little more than a special teamer since coming to the Midway Monsters in 2006. He has made a few starts when Briggs was ailing with minor injuries and always seemed to play pretty well, plus he has become an integral part of the coverage units and relished that role. Though Smith said at the Scouting Combine that Williams will be given a chance at strong-side linebacker along with Roach and Hillenmeyer, he was a long shot at best to win the job – he has no chance now that Tinoisamoa is in town.
Fortunately for Williams, he's capable of backing up at all three 'backer positions and is one of Toub's favorites on special teams, meaning there should still be room for him on the 53-man roster.
John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.