Hayes, not Roach, the possible fault line in Bears revamped D


Hayes, not Roach, the possible fault line in Bears revamped D

The focus of attention this week has been on the man replacing Brian Urlacher at middle linebacker. Less has been on the man replacing Nick Roach.
And against the No. 1 running back in football, Geno Hayes looms as a more vulnerable fault line in the defense than Roach-for-Urlacher.

RELATED: Urlacher's future not dependent on Roach
This is not my first time around, Hayes insisted. Its not my first rodeo.
For NFL purposes, however, it pretty much is. Hayes is a career weak-side linebacker.
And sources told CSNChicago.com in training camp that Hayes, never a strong-side linebacker in his career, was initially something of a disappointment despite having come from a Tampa Bay scheme similar to the Bears. At one point, coaches tried Blake Costanzo at middle linebacker, leaving Roach in his usual spot and Hayes on the bench.
Hayes eventually established something with extensive preseason playing time, important now because he has never started a game at that position.
Now he starts there with exactly 48 defensive snaps this season and at 226 pounds, vs. Adrian Peterson, who is taller, faster and nearly as big as Hayes.
The problem becomes compounded because the Vikings have used 248-pound fullback Jerome Felton on 36 percent of their snaps this season.
And as the strong-side linebacker, Hayes' base position will be opposite tight end Kyle Rudolph, 6-6, 259 pounds and rarely off the field (725 of 788 Minnesota snaps).
How much Hayes picked up in his preseason time will be on display Sunday afternoon.
It was great getting good experience in the preseason, getting accustomed to the defense, accustomed with the guys. I was out there playing ball day in and day out. So, it was great. Its part of my job description.
Now it is his job description.

Fast Break Morning Update: Bulls trade Gibson, McDermott; Blackhawks beat Coyotes

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Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Coyotes: Nick Schmaltz shines on 21st birthday

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Coyotes: Nick Schmaltz shines on 21st birthday

The Blackhawks were finally getting healthy and now may be missing a key player once again. That depends on how Niklas Hjalmarsson feels after suffering an upper-body injury against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night.

It was certainly the toughest part of the Blackhawks' victory, a 6-3 triumph that has the Blackhawks closing in on the Wild. We'll see what the Hjalmarsson update is over the weekend. Until then, let's look at the notables from this one.

What Worked: The offense. We'll give an honorable mention to the penalty kill, which snuffed out all of the Coyotes' chances including a double minor that overlapped the second and third periods. But the offense was just buzzing again. Here's another shocker: the top line is still working just fine. The trio got things started with Nick Schmaltz's goal just 37 seconds into the game (Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik assisted). And much like in their meeting with the Coyotes earlier this month, the Blackhawks needed just about every bit of that offense. While we're on this topic...

What Didn't Work: The first-period defense. The Blackhawks looked like they were in good shape up 3-1 but then they gave up two goals within a minute late in the period. Michal Rozsival had a rough start in his first game since Jan. 15, but overall, the Blackhawks' defense through that first period looked discombobulated. Obviously, it didn't help that the Blackhawks lost Hjalmarsson during the first, either.

[RELATED: Patrick Kane nets hat trick as Blackhawks cruise past Coyotes]

Star of the game: Patrick Kane. One game after Jonathan Toews recorded a hat trick Kane did the same, scoring his 21st, 22nd and 23rd goals of the season. On a night in which the Blackhawks dressed 11 forwards and seven defensemen, Kane got a little extra playing time. His first goal came on a first-period shift with Ryan Hartman and Tanner Kero, the second off a long pass from Brent Seabrook and the third with his usual line mates.

He Said It: "I didn't play much before I got hurt, then I missed four weeks with my injury. It wasn't easy but definitely the way the team's playing now, it made it easier for me. It felt like the first game of the season for me but glad we got the victory and glad I was back playing. I enjoyed it." — Michal Rozsival on returning to the Blackhawks' lineup. 

By the Numbers: 

6 – Number of times, in their last eight games, the Blackhawks have scored five or more goals.

342 – Assists for Jonathan Toews, who tied Dennis Hull for 12th all-time in franchise history in that category.

35 – Combined points for the Blackhawks' top liners Jonathan Toews, Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik in their nine games together. The breakdown in those nine games: Toews has 16 points, Panik 10 and Schmaltz nine.

1997 – The last time the Blackhawks had hat tricks in back-to-back regular-season games. Alexei Zhamnov and Eric Daze had them on April 11 and April 13, 1997, respectively.