Chicago Bears: Geno Hayes
It's the franchise's first free-agent signing in 2013.
Hayes, a sixth-round draft pick out of Florida State in 2008, spent four seasons with the Buccaneers before playing last year in Chicago. He played under current Jaguars coach Gus Bradley as a rookie.
Hayes has played in 71 career games with 45 starts. He has 291 tackles, seven sacks, four interceptions, four forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. He started three games and played in 15 last season, totaling 24 tackles.
Hayes could fill the role vacated by Smith, who spent his first nine seasons in Jacksonville and is the franchise's all-time leading tackler. Smith hasn't signed with another team yet.
Melton is listed as doubtful on the official injury report and could miss his second straight game after hurt his shoulder/chest in first half of the Bears' 28-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 25.
"Right now, all I've got to do is go out there and do my job," he said. "That's all I'm here to do."
The Bears lost middle linebacker Brian Urlacher to a hamstring injury late in Sunday's loss to the Seattle Seahawks, and there's a chance he won't return to the lineup for the duration of the regular season.
Because of Urlacher's absence, Nick Roach will move into Urlacher's spot in the middle Sunday against the Vikings, and Hayes will slide over to Roach's position on the strong side. Despite Hayes making of his 42 starts over five seasons on the weak side, he took a crash course in playing on the strong side during the preseason when Urlacher reinjured his knee on July 31, which forced Roach to move to the middle.
The four locks going into training camp were: Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Nick Roach and special teams ace Blake Costanzo. Former Tampa linebacker Geno Hayes also entered camp on firm ground but suffered through a couple rough patches in the early preseason games. Although it now sounds as if the coaching staff has seen enough from Hayes, who sat out Tuesday’s practice with an undisclosed ailment. Hayes has filled in for Roach on the strong side since Urlacher re-injured his left knee of July 31.
“Geno has picked it up,” Bears linebacker coach Bob Babich said. “His whole deal was he wasn’t finishing plays. He’s athletic, talented, instinctive, but he needed to finish and play the way we expect our linebacker to play. He understands that, and he’s trying hard to do the things we ask him to do.”
Opponent: Baltimore Ravens
Location: M&T Bank Stadium
Day/Time: Friday/8 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: The Lions continue to experiment with their arrangement in the defensive secondary, and Jacob Lacey is expected to start at cornerback with rookie Bill Bentley playing in nickel packages. … The first-team offense is looking to sustain some success after a scoreless preseason opener. ... Two prominent players who missed that game, receiver Titus Young (birth of child) and defensive end Cliff Avril (late camp report) are scheduled to play. … Coach Jim Schwartz grew up in Baltimore and was tweeting cityscapes from his hotel room Thursday evening. … The game will be televised nationally on FOX.
Focal point: Tailback Jahvid Best appears likely to open the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, once again placing an emphasis on depth behind Mikel Leshoure (hamstring) and current starter Kevin Smith. You would figure that Keiland Williams and Joique Bell will once again get a heavy workload.
Opponent: Buffalo Bills
Day/Time: Friday/8 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: The Vikings held a number of veterans out of their preseason opener, but most of them are expected to play Friday night. The list includes defensive end Jared Allen, defensive tackle Kevin Williams, cornerback Antoine Winfield and receiver Percy Harvin. … You should also get your first look at rookie cornerback Josh Robinson. … Tailback Adrian Peterson (knee) returned to practice this week but won't play. … The Vikings are looking forward to seeing rookie place-kicker Blair Walsh's big leg in the still conditions of the Metrodome.
Focal point: The most important task for the franchise is continuing to push the development of quarterback Christian Ponder, who made an encouraging 2012 debut last week. But almost as important is getting at least an even performance from backup Joe Webb, who hasn't had a good summer. The Vikings made Webb a full-time quarterback in the offseason, but if he falls short, he's too good of an athlete to cast aside.
Opponent: Washington Redskins
Location: Soldier Field
Day/Time: Saturday/8 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: Quarterback Jay Cutler will make his preseason debut, and the same is assumed for tailback Matt Forte and defensive end Julius Peppers. … The next installment of the Bears' left tackle drama is expected to include some first-team time for Chris Williams. The Bears want J'Marcus Webb to win the job, but at this point Cutler's safety is the primary goal.
Focal point: Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher's knee surgery brings new scrutiny on the Bears' emergency plan at the position, which for the moment includes moving Nick Roach inside from the strong side and inserting veteran newcomer Geno Hayes on the strong side. Is that an arrangement the Bears could use if Urlacher is forced to miss regular-season time? Or do they need to find help from the outside?
On Jan. 1, Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher sprained two ligaments in his left knee. In the 226 days that have followed, Urlacher has participated in six practices. The knee reacted so poorly to that limited exposure that it required surgery after two weeks of rest.
For me, Tuesday morning's surgery was notable mostly because it reinforced that Urlacher's condition was more significant than anyone -- including the Bears and the players -- ever thought. The question isn't whether he'll be able to drag himself onto the field for the Bears' season opener Sept. 9 against the Indianapolis Colts. It's how effective he can be while managing what appears to be a long-term maintenance issue, and how that will impact the team's defense.
Before the surgery, Urlacher told Fox Chicago that the injury will "probably" be an ongoing issue. He added: "I don't see it getting any better during the season. We have to manage it, my reps in practice, and then get through Sunday."
There is no surgery to speed recovery of sprained knee ligaments, which by definition are partially torn. Tuesday's surgery, called a "debridement procedure" by the team, typically cleans up bone and/or cartilage debris created by post-injury exertion. It removes the debris, lessening irritation, but doesn't address the reason the debris occurred in the first place.
So how will Urlacher prevent a similar occurrence while playing 16 games in 17 weeks? Will he practice once a week? Twice? And will the knee endure through the downfield running the Bears expect out of the middle linebacker position?
Urlacher is as tough as they come and there is every reason to expect him to gut this out. But while he can will himself onto a field, he can't prevent a drop-off in performance if the knee remains limited.
If anyone had expected such a setback, the Bears surely would have developed a more thorough backup plan than the one they've been forced into the past two weeks. Urlacher's absence creates an issue at two of the three linebacker spots; to this point, strongside linebacker Nick Roach has moved to the middle and reserve Geno Hayes has taken over Roach's spot.
Age 34 or not, Brian Urlacher is one of the Bears' most important players. The thought of nursing him through a full season, and dealing with the potential pitfalls, is daunting. When Urlacher walked off the field Jan. 1 after suffering the injury in the regular-season finale, I don't think anyone thought we would still be discussing it eight months later. Now, it is the most significant issue facing the franchise.
The Chicago Bears wrapped up their three-day minicamp Thursday at Halas Hall, and here are some quick observations from the final session:
• Charles Tillman demonstrated his takeaway skills for the second consecutive day against the same victim: tight end Kellen Davis. Tillman pulled a ball out of Davis' hands and sprinted towards the end zone just as a Jay Cutler's pass hit the tight end’s chest during team drills. More impressive is that as Cutler barked out the cadence, Tillman told the defense exactly where the ball would be going on the play.
• He might not make the Bears' roster or any other NFL roster for that matter, but we’re giving the Thomas Jones “Big Guns” award to tight end Draylen Ross. Ross originally signed with the Bears in 2011 as an undrafted free agent out of the University of North Texas, and faces long odds to make the team. Based the size of his arms, perhaps he’s got a future in body building if football doesn’t work out.
• Rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery continued his inactivity in the final day of minicamp. Limited over the last two workouts with a lower-leg injury, Jeffery didn’t participate in any portions of the Thursday session at Halas Hall. Jeffery’s injury isn’t believed to be serious.
• Veteran tight end Matt Spaeth spent Thursday rehabilitating his sore hamstring during the workout with athletic trainer Bobby Slater.
• With Spaeth out, the Bears worked Kyle Adams and Davis with the starters in double tight end sets.
• Edwin Williams took reps with the second team at center.
• Rookie Greg McCoy took reps with the second team opposite veteran Kelvin Hayden. McCoy hasn’t necessarily moved up the depth chart. It’s likely the rookie received those repetitions because the team held out Wilhite.
• The Bears worked out two more tryout players on the final day of minicamp. The club brought in a pair of cornerbacks in Jeremy Ware, a former Michigan State standout drafted in the seventh round of 2010 by the Oakland Raiders, and Cornelius Brown, who signed with the Bears in 2010 as a rookie free agent.
"He understands this is a competition sport," Hayes said. "Guys come in every day, day in and day out. Since I've been here, he's been nothing but great; helping me out, (helping me) learn what I've got to learn, telling me the ins and outs of how to work out here, how to play, how to practice. He's been a guy that's supporting me, helping me out along the way and giving me what I need to know."
"It's really just a part of the job when you are not one of the cornerstones like Lance [Briggs] and Brian [Urlacher]," Roach said Tuesday after being honored as the 2011 veteran Brian Piccolo Award winner. "You basically have to justify your worth as the years go on. I consider myself fortunate to have been able to do that for this many years, now going into the my sixth season.'
"All the competition has made me better, no doubt about it. Plus, when they bring good players in, you become better because you learn stuff from them. You get to see what makes them good, and at the same time add a little something to your game or see what you can do better."
Last summer was the first time the Bears did not have another proven linebacker in camp to battle Roach on the strong side. Roach started 15 games in 2011, recording 61 tackles, six tackles for a loss and three pass break ups. Since arriving in Chicago at the end of the 2007 campaign, Roach has made 45 career starts, all over the span of the past four seasons.
"I wouldn't say there is pressure when you compete against a certain guy because there is always pressure," Roach said. "Each day you are also competing against guys on other teams because scouting departments, their jobs are to constantly look around the league and see if there is somebody else out there that can make each room better. Whether it's somebody in your own room, or somebody on another team with better film, you're kind of competing all the time."
Hayes, who will also back up Briggs at weakside linebacker, according to Emery, started 42 games the past three years in Tampa Bay where he recorded a career-best 98 tackles in 2009. The 24-year-old signed a one-year deal with the Bears after he lost his starting job with the Bucs midway through last season.
"Geno, I know he played a lot of defense when he was in Tampa and that he played well when he was there," Roach said. "He's a good player."
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