Injuries hit Bears at linebacker
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The injury-free Chicago Bears are suddenly snake bitten at strong-side linebacker after coach Lovie Smith's announcement Monday that starter Pisa Tinoisamoa underwent arthroscopic surgery, just hours after his replacement, Nick Roach, left the team's win over the Detroit Lions with what the coach called a "hip pointer, back area."
The recent rash of injuries at the position looms as arguably the most pressing concern for the highly-touted defense heading into the week of preparation for its showdown Sunday at Soldier Field against the New England Patriots.
Certainly, the Bears have options. But whatever they are at this point, they aren't disclosing.
"First off, we don't have enough time to get into that strong-side, weak-side argument," Smith said. "But we have two outside linebackers [in Rod Wilson and Brian Iwuh as potential replacements]. They do a lot of the same things."
It's unclear what the Bears plan to do to replace Tinoisamoa. The fluid nature of Roach's situation adds to the uncertainty. He will start against the Patriots if he's healthy enough. Otherwise, the Bears will decide between Wilson and Iwuh, and possibly make tweaks schematically -- such as playing plenty of nickel, like they did against the Lions -- to compensate for the lack of experience at the position.
Roach played approximately 20 snaps against the Lions before leaving early in the second quarter after sustaining the injury, which he characterized after the game as a "minor muscle strain."
"Everything is good," Roach said on Sunday, as he strolled out of the locker room.
But the fact he was unable to return to action Sunday casts some doubt about his availability for this week's game against the Patriots. Wilson replaced Roach in the second quarter, and finished the game with three tackles.
Roach lost out to Tinoisamoa in a bid for the starting job at strong-side linebacker during training camp, when he underwent a minor surgical procedure on his knee, similar to the one done recently on his counterpart. Roach took all of the first-team repetitions before the Detroit game, and started for the first time since Nov. 18, when he replaced Tinoisamoa against the Dolphins.
Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher called the Bears' linebacking corps -- from top to bottom -- the NFL's finest earlier this season, a statement that will be tested in the coming weeks given the injury situation.
"Rod stepped in, did a good job. He made a couple of tackles," Urlacher said after the game. "He hasn't played a lot of Sam [strong-side linebacker] in his career, but he did a good job today. We're gonna need our guys, obviously [coming up]. We keep having guys go down."
A seventh-round pick of the Bears in 2005, Wilson broke his arm in the preseason of 2008, and later spent time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Jacksonville Jaguars, who released him after the 2010 preseason. Wilson rejoined the Bears on Sept. 15 as a replacement for Hunter Hillenmeyer, who was placed on injured reserve because of recurring issues with concussions.
Interestingly, Wilson -- like Iwuh -- is often described by scouts as a "run-and-hit" type of linebacker with impressive instincts. Wilson has been in the league longer, but Iwuh has more playing experience.
Despite having accrued one fewer season, Iwuh has played in 23 more career games than Wilson with four starts. Wilson hasn't yet started in an NFL game. Iwuh has posted 101 career tackles, compared to Wilson's 44.
Smith said he hoped to "have [Tinoisamoa] back soon", adding that "we continue to evaluate" Roach.
The coach also broke down the other options: Wilson and Iwuh.
"We have the same type of athletes there," Smith said. "Brian Iwuh can play all three of the positions. But he can also definitely play of course the Will [weak-side linebacker] and the Sam position. Rod Wilson can do the same. It's the same type of athlete we're dealing with. Both can play out in space, make tackles. You see the way both of the guys have been able to play on special teams."
Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.
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