Projecting Starters - Linebacker Edition

Could Geno Hayes be hitting like this for the Bears as a starter this year?

Last week we looked at the battle at the safety position and who you expect to see in the starting lineup in week one of the regular season. The poll revealed that we fully expect Chris Conte to start - 89% of us, at least - while the free safety position will likely come down to Major Wright (a starter on 56% of your votes) and Brandon Hardin (36%). This time around, we'll look at the linebacker starters you expect to see in week one of the regular season. Jump for a boy band alternative (I present to you: the opening credits of Watchmen with some Bob Dylan).

We'll keep this one relatively short, since we know two of the starting linebackers will be named Brian and Lance. However, the third spot is up for grabs primarily between incumbent Nick Roach and free agent pickup Geno Hayes. Second-year players J.T. Thomas and Jabara Williams - both outside linebackers - seem like developmental players and backups at this point as no mention has been made thus far about any major positive contributions seen from either player in OTAs. Both Thomas and Williams have potential, but not enough to unseat Roach or challenge Hayes just yet.

Nick Roach has quietly started forty-five games for the Bears over the past four seasons, and while his stats and performances often go overlooked because he plays with two of the best linebackers in the game today (not to mention getting pulled in nickle situations for the excellent D.J. Moore), he has done a solid job as the other man. As Mr. Wiltfong, Esq pointed out in March during his "Roster Turnover" series, Roach performed well when he was on the field.

Roach was solid at the strong side OLB position for the Bears, grading out with a +2.5 and in 23rd place. Being the LB that comes off the field in passing downs limits his snaps, but he still managed the positive for his overall play. His coverage grade was -3.3, but he was actually 10th best in allowing just 69.2% of passes completed against him.

Roach is in the last year of his deal and has some real competition at the position for the first time since Hunter Hillenmeyer left. Geno Hayes signed a one year deal with the Bears this offseason with the expectation that he'll challenge Roach for the starting spot. Hayes spent four years with the Bucs before being let go and was the team's starting linebacker for the last three seasons, picking up seven sacks and four interceptions in his career thus far.

So, at this early stage in the game, who do you expect to start alongside Urlacher and Briggs in week one? Will it be the incumbent Roach or the newcomer Hayes?

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