NU product Roach fast becoming key piece of Bears' defense

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Bears Adewale Ogunleye and Nick Roach stop Tennessee back Chris Johnson.

      Bears Adewale Ogunleye and Nick Roach stop Tennessee back Chris Johnson. Mary Beth Nolan | Staff Photographer

  • Northwestern's Nick Roach, left, talks with new head coach Pat Fitzgerald in this 2006 photo

    Northwestern's Nick Roach, left, talks with new head coach Pat Fitzgerald in this 2006 photo Daily Herald File Photo, 2006

 
 
Published9/29/2009 12:04 AM

As fast as Bears linebacker Nick 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 played 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 3 points instead of 2. I dived, (but) 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 (from our team) caught it."

Roach finished third on the Bears on Sunday with 6 tackles, including 3 solos, and he also had 2 tackles for loss and 2 pass breakups.

What makes his performance even more impressive is that halfway through the game he had to transition from his position on the strong side to middle linebacker after Hunter Hillenmeyer suffered a rib injury.

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The linebacker room already has 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 Pisa 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. "We've got a lot of fallen soldiers."

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 players 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 small for a linebacker at 6-feet-1 and 234 pounds, size isn't as important in the Bears' scheme as some of his physical traits.

He also was academic all-Big 10 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.

"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 the things we ask our linebackers to do, Nick does a good job of."

Roach downplays the cerebral side of being the middle linebacker, pointing out that on the Bears' veteran defense most of the players know their roles in all situations and that 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 (middle linebacker)."

"Of course I would expect Nick to say that," said Smith, who added that the position switch involves more than the added mental responsibilities.

"It's tough moving in from the Sam (strong-side) position. You see plays totally different. Our Sam linebacker's outside, a little wider (and out) 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."

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