LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Set to make his first start as a Chicago Bear when his team faces the Minnesota Vikings, linebacker Geno Hayes considers Sunday's contest "a great opportunity" personally, but he can't lose sight of the main objective with the team having lost three of its last four.
"Right now, all I've got to do is go out there and do my job," he said. "That's all I'm here to do."
The Bears lost middle linebacker Brian Urlacher to a hamstring injury late in Sunday's loss to the Seattle Seahawks, and there's a chance he won't return to the lineup for the duration of the regular season.
Because of Urlacher's absence, Nick Roach will move into Urlacher's spot in the middle Sunday against the Vikings, and Hayes will slide over to Roach's position on the strong side. Despite Hayes making of his 42 starts over five seasons on the weak side, he took a crash course in playing on the strong side during the preseason when Urlacher reinjured his knee on July 31, which forced Roach to move to the middle.
Playing in Roach's spot during the preseason, Hayes struggled initially but gradually earned the staff's trust.
"This is not my first time around," Hayes said. "It was great getting good experience in the preseason, getting accustomed to the defense, accustomed with the guys. It was great. Any time you get the opportunity to step on the field and make plays, it's always that chance you've got to go out there and take something. It's big."
It's especially big with Hayes expected to hit free agency in the spring. Hayes signed a one-year deal with the Bears worth $700,000 last April, and the opportunity to start Sunday could be viewed as an audition for a new deal with his current team or another that could be interested in free agency.
"I try not to think about those things," Hayes said. "Contract and that stuff (are) after the season."
Hayes has played in all 12 games this season, and contributed nine tackles with five of them coming on special teams. Over his career, Hayes has racked up 257 tackles, seven sacks and four interceptions, including one he returned for a 41-yard touchdown.
Hayes acknowledged that Urlacher is irreplaceable, but thinks the Bears can still accomplish their goals this season with him and Roach in the starting lineup at linebacker.
"We can. We have guys in position," Hayes said. "Nick is going to be a great guy. He can step in to that role and make those plays that we need to make at middle linebacker. So we're not really worried about that. We're still going to have Urlacher on the sideline giving us tips and things of that nature. We're going to do what we came to do."