- Jeff Dickerson, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- A plethora of injuries at linebacker have forced the Chicago Bears to try out several different combinations at practice, including lining up last year's sixth-round draft choice J.T. Thomas at first-team strong side linebacker on Sunday.
With Nick Roach in the middle in place of Brian Urlacher and Geno Hayes absent Sunday due to an illness, Thomas was given the opportunity to take starters reps for the fist time in recent memory. Thomas did see a little action with the first team at the start of camp last summer when Roach, per a rule in the new collective bargaining agreement, had to sit out a certain period of time after he re-signed with the Bears in free agency. However, those reps for Thomas were short-lived and he was eventually placed on injured reserve prior to the regular season opener.
"I got some good reps and learned a lot today," Thomas said. "It's great to get some time against the first-team offense because we have a really good offense. Being beside Nick and Lance Briggs], there are a lot of things they can teach me.
"Sometimes in the NFL the cards get shuffled up and you have to be ready to play. All I can do is come out, be as ready as I can, and take advantage of any situation that's given."
It's a thin group at linebacker for the Bears at the moment. Besides Hayes and Urlacher sitting out, fellow linebackers Dom DeCicco and Adrian Cole continued to be sidelined on Sunday, while the recently signed duo of Xavier Adibi and K.C. Asiodu are not eligible yet to suit up in full pads.
"During the course of the year, if you’re having injuries now, you’re going to have them during the season," Bears head coach Lovie Smith said. "Linebacker is a tough position. A lot of physical play that goes into playing that position. So you do have injuries, and guys need to step up, and they’re getting a chance right now. We want to get a look at some of those players. Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher, guys like that, we know what they can do. But it’s about developing that next group, and we are."