BOURBONNAIS -- With middle linebacker Brian Urlacher (knee) missing his sixth straight practice and second straight for personal reasons, strongside linebacker Nick Roach continues to get a lot of work in the middle.
Roach started 15 games on the strong side and has started 45 games the past four seasons, including three in the middle in 2009, when Urlacher missed 15 games with a dislocated wrist.
"Nick had an outstanding day (Monday)," coach Lovie Smith said. "Nick's played good, winning football around here for us."
But he needs to make eight more Pro Bowls before he's on the same level as Urlacher.
"Brian has been one of the elite players in this league for the last 11, 12 years," defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. "You just don't replace guys like that. We know that. But now it's a great opportunity for some of these guys to get great looks and great work.
"Nick had a chance to play a couple three years ago quite a bit inside for us. He's smart, really athletic, great in space and has good coverage skills."
Roach will start in Urlacher's stead Thursday night against the Denver Broncos, with Geno Hayes stepping in on the strong side. Roach may play a little longer than the rest of the starters, who won't do much more than break a sweat.
Roach has no delusions of grandeur regarding his place in the pantheon of Bears linebackers that includes seven-time Pro Bowler Lance Briggs on the weak side.
"I'm a backup middle linebacker to one of those greats," said Roach, who's not making a huge deal about his position switch.
"There's just a lot more vocal communication," he said of the middle. "We all communicate as a defense to each other, but now you have to start off a lot of the checks (defensive switches) and getting people lined up."
Smith insists that the move is only temporary, continuing to downplay the severity of Urlacher's situation, although it could be cause for concern.
"Brian's going to be playing it full time," Smith said of the "Mike," spot in the middle. "Nick's a great 'Sam,' (strongside linebacker), and if we need him to play Mike, he'll be able to fill in."
Dom DeCicco, an undrafted free agent last year who excelled on special teams, will get extensive time in the middle vs. the Broncos.
"It's a great opportunity for young guys like Dom to get reps," Smith said. "During the course of the year, you have injuries, and training camp is a great time to develop some of that depth."
Fitting right in:
Fifth-year veteran Geno Hayes has been running with the ones at strongside linebacker the past week, after Nick Roach vacated that spot to move to middle linebacker in place of injured Brian Urlacher.
Hayes started 42 games for Tampa Bay over the previous three seasons in a Cover-2 scheme similar to the Bears' defense, but he fell out of favor there and was signed as an unrestricted free agent in the off-season.
"He understands the system," linebacker Lance Briggs said. "His instincts are great. He's a great addition to what we do. I think he's a playmaker. He's going to help us win."
At 6-feet-1 and 226 pounds, Hayes is undersized but is still a good fit for the Bears' scheme that puts a premium on speed.
"It's a great fit," Hayes said. "They still have that old-school Tampa 2 kind of scheme, and I love it. (My) speed is good; the speed is not going anywhere.
"That's going to be with me for a long time. When I lose that, then it'll be time to retire."
In and out:
Newly signed wide receiver Rashied Davis was allowed to participate Tuesday because the practice was not in full pads. Per the new CBA, he must wait three days before practicing in pads.
Devin Hester missed practice with flu-like symptoms, including a fever. LB Jabara Williams (hamstring) and defensive tackle DeMario Pressley (foot) also did not participate.
Coming and going:
Former Fighting Illini and Glenbard East High School graduate Derek Walker was signed to a one-year contract Tuesday, and offensive tackle Tyler Hendrickson was waived.
The 6-4, 270-pound Walker spent part of the 2012 season with the Chicago Rush in the Arena Football League.
He entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Seattle Seahawks in 2009. Hendrickson was an undrafted rookie free-agent tackle out of Concordia (Minn).