After leaving Bears, Roach a leader in Oakland
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back Matt Forte carries against Oakland linebacker Nick Roach during a preseason game. Roach is having a solid season as the Raiders' middle linebacker.
Five days before the Bears announced they would not be re-signing Brian Urlacher, another linebacker exited Chicago. And moving on has worked out well for Nick Roach, now the Oakland Raiders' starting middle linebacker.
One of the Raiders' key defensive players, the 28-year-old Roach leads Oakland in tackles (98) and quarterback sacks (5½). With three weeks of the regular season remaining, the Northwestern product has already reached career-highs in both categories for the 4-9 Raiders, who host Kansas City on Sunday.
What's more, Roach has forced 4 fumbles, and he recorded his first NFL regular-season interception in the Raiders' Nov. 17 win at Houston.
Though Roach primarily played outside linebacker for the Bears, he filled in for Urlacher at middle linebacker on occasion, making four starts in Urlacher's place in 2012. In Oakland, Roach has played in the middle from the get-go, something that's suited him well.
"Just by actually lining up in the center, you just have a chance to be around the ball a lot more, which gives you an opportunity to get in on some tackles or try to get the ball out, things like that," Roach told the Daily Herald in a recent telephone interview. "But then, just the obvious challenges are being in the middle, you're just responsible for starting off communications and making sure that everybody's on the same page, getting lined up, any checks or adjustments that need to happen once the offense lines up and shows their formation.
"It's a lot more mental stuff to be responsible for than maybe at some other positions."
Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver has come away impressed with Roach's ability to relay the defensive call to his teammates.
"(To) communicate forward, you need to tell them what to do," Tarver recently told reporters, referring to the defensive linemen. "To communicate in the back, you need to hand signal what to do, because they're looking at you. That's your job. You're in the middle.
"So you've to got tell (the linemen) and show (the secondary) what you're doing, and then you can move from there. And that's his strength."
As was the case in Chicago, the 6-foot-1, 234-pound Roach plays in a 4-3 defense. As Roach described it, the Raiders' defense is more varied from a game-planning standpoint than the Bears' defense was during head coach Lovie Smith's tenure, though the Bears' defensive technique was "more complicated."
"You end up in a lot more places," Roach said of the Raiders' scheme. "I might be on the edge sometimes, or I might be covering a running back or a receiver or a tight end or something like that, whereas in Chicago, once we line up, you basically know where everybody's going to be."
In Chicago, Roach wasn't much of a pass-rush threat whereas in Oakland he's shown a knack for pressuring the quarterback on the blitz. Among all inside linebackers, Roach is a leader in quarterback hurries, according to Pro Football Focus, which charts player performance.
Still, Roach downplayed his increase in sacks.
"The numbers make it sound like I've doing lot more than I have, I would say," he said.
Roach still keeps in touch with some of his old Bears teammates. His March 15 departure from Chicago, Roach said, was a matter of Oakland ultimately "being a better fit."
The Raiders have been competitive this season, with 4 losses by a touchdown or less. Roach, who's in his seventh NFL campaign, thinks there is something to be taken from such narrow defeats.
"I see this team as a group of guys that loves playing football. They genuinely enjoy coming to work and working together," Roach said. "Just in terms of coming together in games, I feel like we're a team that's learning as a whole how small the difference is between winning and losing.
"I think we're learning just really good lessons about teamwork and how to persevere, how to fight back. All those good things that you learn in sports, we're learning right now."
The rest of us? We're learning Nick Roach can fill up a stat sheet in some interesting ways.
• Mike Wilkening has covered the NFL for more than a decade. You can read his work at Pro Football Talk, The Linemakers at Sporting News and NBC New York, among other publications. He can be followed on Twitter @mikewilkening. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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