Linebacker picture still needs clearing up

CLEVELAND -- The most pressing issue for the Chicago Bears at linebacker is whether Brian Urlacher returns in time to play in the regular season opener, as coach Lovie Smith forecasted on Tuesday.

Much further down on the list of concerns is the matter of who will be the No. 6, or perhaps No. 7 linebacker, depending on how many the Bears decide to carry when final rosters are set on Friday. Six is usually the magic number, and in recent years, the Bears had to cut quality players (Tim Shaw in 2010) because they could not afford to keep seven. But with Urlacher’s recurrent knee problems, a case could be made for the team to hold on to an extra linebacker for insurance purposes.

The four locks going into training camp were: Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Nick Roach and special teams ace Blake Costanzo. Former Tampa linebacker Geno Hayes also entered camp on firm ground but suffered through a couple rough patches in the early preseason games. Although it now sounds as if the coaching staff has seen enough from Hayes, who sat out Tuesday’s practice with an undisclosed ailment. Hayes has filled in for Roach on the strong side since Urlacher re-injured his left knee of July 31.

“Geno has picked it up,” Bears linebacker coach Bob Babich said. “His whole deal was he wasn’t finishing plays. He’s athletic, talented, instinctive, but he needed to finish and play the way we expect our linebacker to play. He understands that, and he’s trying hard to do the things we ask him to do.”

That leaves one, or perhaps two, final slots up for grabs when the Bears wrap up the preseason in Cleveland on Thursday night.

“All of those guys are going to play a lot in the games and this is huge for them,” Babich said. “J.T. Thomas has had a good training camp, Jabara (Williams) has come on lately … Patrick Trahan, Xavier Adibi … all of those guys are going to get a good look so you never know what’s going to happen.”

After spending his rookie year on injured reserve, Thomas – the Bears’ sixth-round draft choice in 2011 -- has been active on special teams, which will no doubt help his cause. However, there is still the matter of Thomas’ unresolved offseason arrest for marijuana possession. He said a few weeks ago he did not believe the Bears would hold the incident against him, but the NFL is still monitoring the situation and has not stated whether Thomas will be subject to league discipline.

Another lingering question centers around the status of Dom DeCicco, who made the squad last year as an undrafted rookie free agent and finished second on the team with 17 special teams tackles, the most special teams tackles by a Bear since Corey Graham had 20 in 2007. DeCicco appeared to be an obvious candidate to earn another spot on the 53-man roster until he suffered a groin injury that has kept him out since the club’s first preseason game on Aug. 9.

While DeCicco continues to make progress with his rehab, it’s difficult to tell where he stands.

“Dom was banged up (before the groin injury) so he wasn’t moving as well as we’ve seen him in the past,” Babich said. “But Dom is good mentally. (But) missing these days has hurt him.”