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With Brian Urlacher out, Nick Roach will be stepping up to the Mike

CHICAGO - DECEMBER 11:  Marques Colst#12 New Orleans Saints is tackled by Brian Urlacher #54 Tommie Harris #91 Nick

CHICAGO - DECEMBER 11: Marques Colston #12 of the New Orleans Saints is tackled by Brian Urlacher #54, Tommie Harris #91 and Nick Roach #53 of the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on December 11, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears won 27-24. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Marques Colston;Tommie Harris;Nick Roach;Brian Urlacher

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Updated: September 16, 2012 6:24AM



BOURBONNAIS — He’s not a bad tutor for Nick Roach to have right about now: Fast, 6-4, 258 pounds, bald, 12 years of Pro Bowl-level experience. Not bad at all.

But Brian Urlacher can pass all the knowledge he wants down to Roach about playing middle linebacker in Lovie Smith’s version of the Tampa-2 and Roach still might be overwhelmed by what happens on the field.

“Moving a linebacker from the Sam [strong-side] to the Mike [middle], having him understand the middle of the field, it’s all different,’’ ESPN broadcaster and former NFL coach Herm Edwards said on Tuesday. “I’m not saying Nick Roach can’t do it, but his whole world is about to change.’’

Roach has been the fill-in guy while Urlacher was nursing an injured left knee. And now that Urlacher has had knee surgery? That could be a game-changer. Short-term, Roach remains the man in the middle. Long-term, it’s sink or swim time for Roach.

“[Urlacher’s] always coaching guys when he’s not out there,’’ Roach said. “He’s telling guys certain things to look out for, what to look for in a certain situation. So he’s pretty good about that.’’

He’d better be great at it.

Edwards coached with Smith in Tampa Bay from 1996-2000. The cover-2 was their specialty before being renamed the Tampa-2 and then imported to Chicago. Under Smith, it was tweaked even more to take advantage of the physical gifts Urlacher brought to the middle.

That’s why Edwards has his reservations that Roach — or anyone for that matter — can step in and come close to carrying the load that Urlacher does.

“It’s not about just lining up a player out there,’’ Edwards said. “All the experience Brian has, you can’t just hand that over to someone. When you break it all down, he’s really the quarterback for the defense. Back in Tampa, we were fortunate enough to have Derrick Brooks and Hardy Nickerson at the Mike. And even in our Tampa days, we took Hardy off the field on third downs. Brian never leaves the field. He’s a filler and alley runner. He can do all the things that are an aspect of the position.’’

In its simplest terms, the cover-2 is about the middle linebacker first. Then the focus is on the other two linebackers and then the cornerbacks.

“It’s about covering from the inside out,’’ Edwards explained. “It’s seven guys dropping and all having to understand the principles of the defense. The beauty of that defense is that you see the same routes over and over because you force the offense to run them. There are concepts to beat it and that’s what the offense is trying to do. I’ve yet to see a team come up with a new route for a receiver, so there are only so many ways to attack it. You start dictating to the offense what they can run, believe it or not.’’

What is Edwards counting on? That Smith wouldn’t set Roach up to fail.

“Lovie is not going to put Nick out there unless he’s smart,’’ Edwards said. “He’s played some there, so it won’t be all new to him, but there is going to be a lot on this guy. A lot.’’



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