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Fleet LB Geno Hayes is a downhill racer

TAMPA FL - CIRCA 2011: In this handout image provided by NFL Geno Hayes TampBay Buccaneers poses for his NFL

TAMPA, FL - CIRCA 2011: In this handout image provided by the NFL, Geno Hayes of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers poses for his NFL headshot circa 2011 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by NFL via Getty Images)

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Updated: September 17, 2012 1:10PM

The irony wasn’t lost on Geno Hayes. A year ago, the Bears were the root of his demise with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Now they’re a golden opportunity to revive his NFL career.

‘‘It was a blessing in disguise,’’ the fifth-year linebacker said of his falling out at Tampa Bay, where he started 42 games the previous three seasons. ‘‘I’m happy to be here. [The Buccaneers] said they wanted to go in a different direction.’’

Hayes might not know what went wrong with the Buccaneers, but he knows when it started to unravel. Against the Bears at Wembley Stadium in London last season, the strong-side linebacker was blocked by Matt Spaeth to spring Matt Forte and Marion Barber for long gains as the Bears rushed for 177 yards in a 24-18 victory.

He was benched the next three games. And though he started the last six, it was clear as the Bucs’ season spun out of control that Hayes wasn’t in their plans for 2012.

‘‘I don’t know what happened,’’ Hayes said. ‘‘After [the Bears game], a lot of stuff went left-right. We weren’t on the same page.’’

Hayes, a sixth-round pick from Florida State in 2008, is playing in a defense he says he was ‘‘born and bred’’ to play.

And with Brian Urlacher out indefinitely, Hayes is getting first-team reps at strong-side linebacker.

‘‘In Tampa, our linebackers were more side-to-side guys,’’ Hayes said. ‘‘Here, this is something I was born and bred to be: a downhill player. ... This right here is downhill, baby — TFLs.’’

That’s tackles for loss, which the fleet Hayes specializes in.

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