Roach Filling in the Blanks at 'Backer

The Chicago Bears arrived at training camp with linebacker probably their deepest position on the roster, but injuries have totally torn the unit apart. Fortunately, young players like Nick Roach have stepped up and are doing the job. Get the Inside Slant from the NFL experts at

Three linebackers who have started at least one game this year did not practice Wednesday, leaving the position in a state of flux.

But only Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) is expected to be out Sunday, while Lance Briggs (toe) and Hunter Hillenmeyer (ribs) should play. Even better news is that Nick Roach played extremely well last week. Roach started on the strong side in place of Tinoisamoa, but he moved to the middle when Hillenmeyer was injured.

As fast as Roach is, he wasn't quite fast enough to catch Seahawks quarterback Seneca Wallace as he scampered across his own end zone toward the sideline before he hurried a throw in the direction of tight end John Carlson.

While Roach failed to record the sack midway through the third quarter, which would have gotten the Bears a safety, the play turned out OK. Wallace's rushed throw was intercepted by Lance Briggs at the Seattle 14-yard line, and even though the offense stalled, the Bears came away with a 37-yard Robbie Gould field goal and a 17-13 lead.

"I tell you what," Roach said, "I'm glad that I didn't get to him because we ended up with three points instead of two. I dived. He's pretty fast, too."

Briggs got the spotlight on that play, but Roach said the four-time Pro Bowler acknowledged his part in the big play.

"We shared the moment," Roach said. "We were both happy about it. After I got up off the ground, I was glad to see that somebody caught it."

Roach finished third on the team with six tackles, including three solos, and he also had two tackles for loss and two pass breakups.

The linebacker room has already had to contend with more than its share of injuries this season. Brian Urlacher's season-ending dislocated wrist made a starter out of Hillenmeyer, and Tinoisamoa's sprained knee elevated Roach to the first team. Both injuries occurred in the season-opening loss, but the Bears are 2-0 since then.

"That's the type of room we have and the type of players we have in here," said Briggs, whose play has been brilliant all season.

Last year, Roach played his way ahead of Hillenmeyer into the No. 1 job on the strong side midway through the season, and he wound up starting nine games. But both opened this season as backups when free agent Tinoisamoa won the strong-side job in preseason. Roach missed significant time with a concussion, and Hillenmeyer was moved to the middle behind Urlacher.

Although Roach is undersized for a linebacker at 6-1 and 234 pounds, size isn't as important in the Bears' scheme as some of his physical traits. He was also an Academic All-Big 10 player at Northwestern, which doesn't hurt, especially at middle linebacker, where he's responsible for calling defensive signals and making adjustments.

"He's a Northwestern grad, I'll throw that in there to start off with," coach Lovie Smith said. "Just being able to handle all the checks and things like that is big. He got a couple [practice] reps at [middle linebacker], but not a lot of time when you're third on the depth chart after Brian and Hunter.

LB Nick Roach
Getty Images: Scott Boehm

"But Nick has a lot of quickness. He can slip blocks, he's a good pass rusher and he's good in pass coverage. All things we ask our linebackers to do, Nick does a good job of."

Roach downplays the cerebral part of the middle-linebacker job, pointing out that on the Bears' veteran defense, most of the players know their roles in all situations and Briggs helps out with adjustments.

"It's not that hard because we have guys who know even before I make the call, what's going to come," Roach said. "That takes a lot of the pressure off the Mike."

"Of course I would expect Nick to say that," Smith said, who added that the position switch involves much more than the added mental responsibility. "It's tough moving in from the Sam position. You see plays totally different. Our Sam linebacker's outside, a little wider in space. As the middle linebacker, you're making all the calls, seeing everything from a different point of view. But Nick has done it well."

Offensive coordinator Ron Turner gave Jay Cutler his choice of two options on the fourth-and-goal play at the Seahawks' 1-yard line near the end of the first half.

Cutler chose a play-action pass to tight end Greg Olsen, who was wide open in the end zone. It's a situation that comes up from time to time, according to Cutler.

"During timeouts, I'm talking a lot with Ron and before the start of each drive," the quarterback said. "We were just lucky enough to have them reviewing that [Matt Forte] fumble [which was reversed]. That gave us an opportunity to talk about it and see what we wanted to do. He tries to get me involved as much as possible, which I greatly appreciate."

Cutler considers the mutual trust between himself and Turner critical to the success of the offense.

"He's got to trust me, and I've got to trust him to put us in the right situation and get us the right call because we can't check out of everything like [we did in] Seattle. Sometimes the defense is going to have [an effective] call for the play, and I've just got to manage it. Sometimes we have a pretty good feel of what they're going to do, and he's going to dial up a good one for us. So it's give and take." ...

The defense allowed the Seahawks to convert 7 of 17 third-down situations, an unacceptable 41 percent, according to Smith.

"I'm not pleased with our third-down conversions," Smith said. "We have to do a better job of that. We missed a couple tackles. After watching the video, we had them a couple times where we let them out."

Last year the Bears were No. 5 in the NFL, allowing their opponents to convert just 34.9 of their third downs. ...

With Hillenmeyer's status questionable this week because of a rib injury, and with Tinoisamoa's knee sprain not yet completely healed, the Bears will revisit the idea of bringing in another linebacker, possibly former Buccaneers perennial Pro Bowler Derrick Brooks.

"We'll keep all of our options open," Smith said. "We'll evaluate the situation, but we are thin at that position." ...

Briggs was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week with eight tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, an interception and a quarterback pressure in the 25-19 win at Seattle. It's Briggs' first-ever Player of the Week award, and he's the first Bears award winner since Adewale Ogunleye in the 2008 season opener. ...

Roach and defensive tackle Anthony Adams have been fined $5,000 for facemask penalties against the Seahawks. Both plan to appeal.

"That is what great quarterbacks do: They elevate the play of those around them. I think he is doing that because they all believe if they do their job, he can make something happen, he can do something special." – Offensive coordinator Ron Turner on QB Jay Cutler elevating the play of teammates.

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