Lining up alongside two possible future Hall of Famers like Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, it is easy for strong-side linebacker Nick Roach's contributions to go unnoticed.
Through five games this season, the Bears defense has been dominate in stopping teams in both the running and passing game, having only given up an average of 291 yards per game—good enough for third-best in the league.
Urlacher and Briggs get the brunt of the attention because of their remarkable playmaking abilities, as well as the number of tackles they rack up each season. Urlacher's responsibilities as the middle linebacker in the cover-2 defense allow him the opportunity to roam the middle of the field and make plays on the ball.
Briggs' responsibilities at the weak-side linebacker allow him to roam and have more freedom, because he typically is not matched up as often against tight ends or the running back, as Roach is at the strong side position.
Despite bringing in a proven veteran like Geno Hayes this offseason, or having to fight with Hunter Hillenmeyer or Pisa Tinoisamoa in the past, Roach has always relished the opportunity to learn from those around him, saying in an interview with Bears Backer in 2010:
NFL teams are always looking to improve positions, and they’re constantly evaluating players’ performance against other players, whether it’s on that team or around the league. The fact that I can learn from and compete with proven veterans is only going to be better for me in the long run.
Roach's numbers are not typically near the top of the stat sheet, but his contributions should not go unnoticed. He often is forced with taking on the tight end, fullback or pulling guard, and his abilities to slow down that progression helps setup his teammates for tackles.
Not only is he responsible for trying to shed blockers in the run game, Roach is often matched up against some of the best tight ends in the league. He has good enough speed to keep up with most tight ends and can play physical with them as needed.
His numbers will never jump off the page at you, and he'll likely never get the credit he is due, but without the solid contributions from Roach this season, the Bears defense might not be as dominate as it has been.
Matt Eurich is a contributor to Bearsbacker.com. Follow Bears Backer on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute news about the Bears. Also, check out Matt’s work on BleacherReport.com and follow him on Twitter @MattEurich.