If the Bears wind up signing free-agent linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, who will visit Halas Hall today, there is little doubt he will be installed as the starter at strong-side linebacker.
That's figured to be one of the few positions where the organization is going to have wide-open competition for a job come training camp. Nick Roach was promoted over veteran Hunter Hillenmeyer during the middle of last season and that alone probably gives him a leg up on the job right now.
But Tinoisamoa has long been someone Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Bob Babich have admired. Babich was a rookie position coach in the NFL when Tinoisamoa led the St. Louis Rams in tackles as a rookie second-round pick in 2003. After arriving from St. Louis, Smith and Babich both spoke highly of the player on a regular basis. Now there is an opportunity for a reunion, although Buffalo and Philadelphia are also pursuing the player.
Let's take a closer look at Roach and Hillenmeyer and how their competition sizes up right now because it's unknown if the Bears are prepared to offer Tinoisamoa a contract. Remember, they moved fast when tight end Michael Gaines came for a free-agent visit last week. Tinoisamoa will be in an upbeat atmosphere as the first OTA practice is scheduled to start at 11 a.m. He will be able to watch at practice like the rest of us where fifth-round pick Marcus Freeman and veteran Jamar Williams fit into the scheme. There are some questions to be answered at linebacker.
2008 playing time breakdown
Hunter Hillenmeyer--269 of 1,111 snaps, 24.2 percent
23 tackles, 10 solos, 1 sack, 2 pass defended
Nick Roach--431 of 1,111 snaps, 38.8 percent
40 tackles, 25 solos, 2 tackles for loss, 1 QB hit, 1 pass defended
The sample size is not the best to evaluate, and Hillenmeyer was dealing with injuries last season, but the numbers suggest Roach has the ability to make more plays on his own. While Roach made a tackle every 10.8 plays, Hillenmeyer had one every 11.7 plays. There's a broader difference when you look at solo tackles. Roach had 2.5 times as many with a solo every 17 plays. Hillenmeyer made one every 27 plays. Roach has better range and that could explain why. But don't forget the team called Hillenmeyer, who turns 29 this season, it's most "assignment sound" defender not long ago.
What the numbers also show is that the Bears were in their base defense roughly 63 percent of the time. The strong-side linebacker comes off the field in the nickel package. That would be an adjustment Tinoisamoa would likely have to get used to if he joins the team. He was a three-down linebacker during six seasons with the Rams.
Check back later on this morning as we provide updates from the OTA here as well as on our Twitter account at cst_bears. Get your questions in for Four Down Territory also. We'll have the Q&A on Thursday.