The Chicago Bears defense will look a lot different without Brian Urlacher (hamstring) in the middle of the field, but Nick Roach and Geno Hayes are hoping the transition is more seamless in terms of production. Urlacher hasn't been completely healthy this year. He has struggled to cover the deep middle of the field in the Tampa 2 defense as effectively as he's done over the past decade, so now it's up to speedier, younger linebackers to try and make up for a lack of experience with quickness and athleticism.
Roach is a veteran of the defense who has played alongside Urlacher as the strong-side LB in Lovie Smith's defense, but he will be moving to the middle of the field with No. 54 out of the lineup. That means 25-year-old Geno Hayes will step in as the strong-side backer. He has excelled on special teams with Chicago, but his only linebacking experience has come with the Tampa Bay Bucaneers -- the team that originally drafted him in the sixth round of the 2008 NFL Draft.
Hayes thinks his time in Tampa will help him a lot in Week 14 and beyond (via ESPN Chicago):
"This is not my first time around," Hayes said. "It was great getting good experience in the preseason, getting accustomed to the defense, accustomed with the guys. It was great. Any time you get the opportunity to step on the field and make plays, it's always that chance you've got to go out there and take something. It's big."
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder loves to throw to tight end Kyle Rudolph, so Hayes will be likely be tested in pass coverage early in the game. His gap discipline and tackling skills will also be put to the test against the NFL's most dangerous rusher, Adrian Peterson.
The Vikings will host the Bears at 1 p.m. on Sunday. Chicago won the first meeting in Week 12 by a score of 28-10.