BOURBONNAIS, Ill. » There wasn’t a lot to Pisa Tinoisamoa’s season last year with the Bears, but he came up with one hit that still raises the hair on the back of Brian Urlacher’s neck.
"I saw him hit (Atlanta running back Michael) Turner, ‘Sunday Night Football,’ when I was watching from home," Urlacher said. "Pisa made him fumble. That was a big hit. He plays hard."
As short as Urlacher’s season was — he was in for 35 snaps in the first half of the opener at Green Bay — Tinoisamoa’s was shorter. The veteran hurt his knee on the first play from scrimmage at Lambeau Field and returned five weeks later at Atlanta only to reinjure the same knee, leading to surgery. Tinoisamoa got 25 snaps in 2009, made five tackles and put the one big lick on Turner.
So, once again he’s out to prove the Rams erred in releasing him in May 2009 as he battles with Nick Roach for the starting strong-side linebacker position. Tinoisamoa says all the missed time has only "added more fuel to my fire."
Roach made 15 starts last season, 12 on the strong side, and he performed well. He was fourth on the team in tackles and made a stop every 7.41 snaps, not far behind leading tackler Lance Briggs, who had one every 6.55. Roach has been hampered lately by a minor knee issue but should be fine.
"Those guys are very good players. It’s a good situation to be in, but somebody has got to start," linebackers coach Bob Babich said. "They understand that."
Logic would dictate Tinoisamoa will be the man. The team pursued him to sign a contract during last season, even after the knee surgery. The Bears wanted him back, but he needed to make certain something better wasn’t waiting in free agency before returning April 12 on a one-year deal that includes incentives. The 29-year-old understands nothing is being handed out.
THE NUMBERS GAME
"Nick did well last year, so he afforded himself that opportunity to be labeled the starter," Tinoisamoa said.
The good situation Babich talks about is having six capable starters. It’s what Babich promoted last summer and it rang true as the Bears used six different starting combinations at the position in the first 12 games.
The sixth, Jamar Williams, had a 19-tackle effort in a win over the Rams. He is gone now and Babich believes in Brian Iwuh as a reserve behind Briggs. With 69 career starts, Hunter Hillenmeyer is another veteran capable of playing multiple positions. Tim Shaw figures to fit in as a special teams performer.
"We have the luxury of getting to our sixth linebacker," Babich said. "I am extremely high on what (Iwuh) has done up to this point and he has been a pro for a while. It’s not like we’re bringing a rookie in, so we feel really comfortable with what we have."
Babich said he plans to sort out even playing time for Tinoisamoa and Roach during the preseason in order to make a final evaluation. The process began in the offseason, though.
Tinoisamoa led the Rams in tackles four of the six seasons he was there, working under Babich and Lovie Smith in 2003 when he became the first rookie in franchise history to lead the team in tackles. But competition raises the level of everyone, and it continues.
"Pisa can run and he makes plays," Urlacher said. "He’s enthusiastic. He’s just a playmaker. You’ve seen it this year in training camp. He did it in St. Louis and when he’s healthy he’ll do it here. Speed is a crazy thing."