Bears linebacker Nick Roach a low-key cog
BY SEAN JENSEN email@example.com November 1, 2012 8:46PM
Linebacker Nick Roach is ready to get the start in place of injured Brian Urlacher this week. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
Updated: December 3, 2012 6:49AM
Nick Roach is the least heralded starter on the Bears’ celebrated defense.
Cornerback Charles Tillman, who was named the NFC defensive player of the month Thursday, likened Roach to the “fullback of the defense,” a nod to the yeomanlike role the former Northwestern standout serves as the team’s strong-side linebacker.
He has played fewer snaps than a non-starter, nickel cornerback D.J. Moore, and hasn’t made the sexy plays that grab attention. But coaches and teammates insist Roach is a key cog in the Bears’ turnover-generating defense, even if he doesn’t mind the anonymity.
“I love it,’’ Roach said. ‘‘I like to be able to go to the mall and restaurants and not have to be the guy that causes a scene. It’s kind of the best of both worlds.
“Honestly, I like my role. It’s a matter of doing your job and patiently waiting until an opportunity presents itself.”
In the Bears’ defensive scheme, the strong-side linebacker (also known as the Sam) does the grunt work, clogging certain lanes to free up the weak-side (Will) and middle (Mike) linebackers, Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher, to make the plays. Roach also is primarily responsible for covering the tight end.
“Just playing with Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, you’re the third linebacker,’’ coach Lovie Smith said. ‘‘He does the hard work and never gets credit. But Nick, he’s our backup [middle] linebacker, and he’s our best pass rusher as a linebacker.
“He’s the ultimate pro. We can do a lot of things with Nick.”
Roach is eighth on the team with 21 tackles, but he’s tied for third with three tackles for loss, and he also has a sack and two quarterback pressures. According to Pro Football Focus, which breaks down every snap of every NFL game, Roach is the third-best 4-3 linebacker in coverage, three spots ahead of Briggs. The player he’s defending has been targeted 12 times, and Roach has given up eight catches for 108 yards.
Smith pointed to the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars when they attempted a fade route to tight end Marcedes Lewis.
“He played it perfectly,” Smith said.
There is something to snaps, of course.
Starting cornerback Tim Jennings leads the team with 458 defensive snaps, and Briggs and Urlacher are at 442 and 413, respectively.
Roach is at 232, even behind Moore (251).
“Nick’s a playmaker,’’ Briggs said. ‘‘The only thing is, as a Sam, he doesn’t play as many downs as a Will and a Mike.
‘‘But if he were, he’d have a lot more big plays.”
Roach doesn’t mind.
For one, he’s a key part of the special teams, his highlight being the opportunity to spring Devin Hester for return touchdowns.
Known for his low-key manner, Roach won’t gamble to try to make a huge play.
“You just play hard,” he said, “and it’ll pay off.”
Roach hasn’t dropped a sure pick, so he hasn’t missed a glaring opportunity. But he said he could do a better job of stripping the ball, which has been a point of emphasis with defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.
That’s something he certainly has proved capable of in the past. He forced three fumbles during the 2009 season.
But Roach doesn’t seem too excited about the prospect of making a game-changing play that will land him prominently in newspapers or on TV highlight shows.
When he has been out in public with Urlacher, Roach marvels at how fans flock to the eight-time Pro Bowl selection.
“Honestly, he handles it as good as anybody who has to deal with that type of thing,” Roach said. “I like to be able to enjoy it, on and off the field.”