Bears' Hayes steps into starting linebacker role
By TOM MUSICK – firstname.lastname@example.org Created: Tuesday, August 14, 2012 11:58 p.m. CDT
Updated: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 12:19 a.m. CDT
BOURBONNAIS – Geno Hayes fit the profile when the Bears searched the free-agent market for someone who could serve as a reliable insurance policy at linebacker. Now, the Bears’ foresight is paying off.
Hayes, 25, has stepped into a starting role at strong-side linebacker heading into the Bears’ second preseason game Saturday against the Washington Redskins. He will take on the job formerly filled by Nick Roach, who moved to middle linebacker to replace injured teammate Brian Urlacher for at least a couple of weeks.
“Brian’s going to be healthy,” Hayes said before Tuesday’s practice. “He’s going to fight through it. I’m not really worried about that. But it is a good opportunity to get out there with the first-team defense and get some reps with the older guys and the guys who have been experienced in the system to get an understanding of it.”
Bears coach Lovie Smith said he was impressed with Hayes, who started 42 of 56 games in four seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before joining the Bears.
“Geno has played a lot of football before he got here,” Smith said. “Coming in, you wanted to get good, quality backups. A good, quality backup is a guy that’s played and started in the league. We’re pleased with what he’s done.”
Step one: The Bears will play their first two regular-season games in a span of five days, which has caused some to wonder whether Urlacher will be able to play both games.
After all, Urlacher’s knee swelled up after only a few days of practice and forced him to undergo arthroscopic surgery. How will his damaged knee respond to a Sunday game against Indianapolis followed by a Thursday game against Green Bay?
“We’re talking about Week 1,” Smith said. “You’re jumping ahead quite a bit. Again, our plan is to have him ready for that, and there’s no reason to think he won’t be.”
Surprise: Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton said he was caught off guard when he heard that Urlacher required surgery to repair damage in his knee.
The Bears frequently rest their prized veterans during training camp, so Melton thought that the coaching staff simply was being careful to protect Urlacher.
“I had no idea what was going on,” Melton said. “I thought he was just relaxing, honestly. Just hanging out. But I guess it was a little more serious than that. I hope he gets better.”
Bears bits: Safety Chris Conte intercepted several passes during Tuesday’s practice, including a pick in the end zone. … J’Marcus Webb and Chris Williams continued to share first-team repetitions at left tackle as both players compete for a starting job.
Training camp: Day 20
Play of the day: The Bears practiced in shorts and shells, which led to an uneventful session. Devin Hester broke up the monotony by fielding a punt one-handed, which elicited a cheer from the crowd and smiles from his teammates.
Quote of the day: “We think Nick can play winning football.” – Bears linebackers coach Bob Babich on Nick Roach, temporary replacement for Brian Urlacher
Injuries: Urlacher (knee), Stephen Paea (ankle), Dom DeCicco (groin) and Chilo Rachal (soreness) remained out because of injuries
Next up: Off today; practice at 2 p.m. Thursday