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Bears hope Hillenmeyer can play against Lions despite rib injury

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Nick Roach enjoyed the view, compared it to watching on a big screen TV, only a little closer to the action.

The Chicago Bears linebacker was right in the middle of it.

"It definitely was fun," he said Monday.

Roach moved over to middle linebacker after Hunter Hillenmeyer left Sunday's game at Seattle with a rib injury and helped the Bears escape with a 25-19 win. Chicago hopes Hillenmeyer will be able to play this week, but if he can't, Roach figures to fill in against Detroit.

"We'll see how that plays out the rest of the week," said coach Lovie Smith, who added the injury is not as serious as the cracked rib that has sidelined tight end Desmond Clark the past two weeks.

Hillenmeyer, who became the starting middle linebacker after Brian Urlacher suffered a season-ending wrist injury in the opener, was injured in the second quarter. He played into the third before calling it a day.

Roach moved over from strongside linebacker and helped seal a 25-19 win when he nudged Seahawks running back Julius Jones, causing him to miss a pass on fourth-and-2 at the Bears' 29 with 30 seconds left.

Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler then took a knee, and Smith could hardly contain himself after watching his team escape with the win after falling behind by 13 in the first half. He was all smiles as players came off the field and even gave Roach a big hug.

"It was a lot of emotion just the whole game, battling back, being so far away from home," Roach said.

Cutler continued to distance himself from a dismal opener at Green Bay by completing more than 70 percent of his passes for the second straight week. He was 21 for 27 with 247 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, but as good as he was, concerns in other areas continue to linger.

The offensive line got pushed around, Matt Forte ran in place and the injury list grew again with the addition of Hillenmeyer. The Bears could look for help outside if they think his injury might linger, but they also have a bye following the Lions game that would give them time to heal.

For now, they're getting a chance to back up their claims before the season that they were as deep as any team at linebacker.

Losing Urlacher, the six-time Pro Bowler and defensive leader, for the rest of the year to a dislocated right wrist in the opener at Green Bay threatened to derail the season just as it was beginning. It didn't help, either, that another starter -- strongside linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa -- went down with a sprained knee. The injuries forced the Bears to shuffle their rotation, and after falling to the Packers, they rebounded with wins over Pittsburgh and Seattle.

On Sunday, they were adjusting again.

Hillenmeyer got kicked in the side trying to tackle Seattle's Justin Forsett and that led to another chain of changes, with Roach replacing Hillenmeyer. Jamar Williams moved to strongside, where Roach had been filling in for Tinoisamoa.

"Nick has a lot of quickness. He can get off slip blocks and get off of it well. I think he's a good rusher, and he's good in pass," Smith said. "All things we ask our linebackers to do Nick does a good job of."

Roach relayed the defensive signals, acting as a quarterback of the defense. It's a big responsibility for a player who was undrafted in 2007 after breaking his leg during his senior season at Northwestern and then got cut from the San Diego Chargers' practice squad before latching on with the Bears later that year.

He made nine starts at strongside linebacker a year ago, and on Sunday, he moved into one of the league's most storied positions, a spot once occupied by Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary not to mention Urlacher.

"It's been a long road," Roach said. "Looking back, it's kind of all surreal, a little bit of a blip. But I think that everything that's happened to this point, I'm just really thankful for it, that I have good teammates and coaches who have been able to bring me to this point."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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