Truth be told, the high-priced free-agent acquisition of DE Julius Peppers probably won't be worth a hill of beans if three key Bears defenders — DT Tommie Harris and LBs Brian Urlacher and Pisa Tinoisamoa — are once again significantly limited by injuries in 2010.
The loss of Tinoisamoa, an unrestricted free agent who signed a one-year deal April 12, wouldn't be nearly as severe as the prolonged absences of either Urlacher or Harris. But there are some close to the team that believe he could be a major force if he can stay healthy, including Pro Bowl teammate Lance Briggs, who referred to Tinoisamoa as "an elite linebacker in this league" after the former Rams tackling machine re-upped for another year.
There are some team observers who believe there's no question Tinoisamoa, who made an immediate impression in training camp last offseason with his playmaking ability after he was signed off the street, should be the undisputed starter at strong-side linebacker.
There are others, however, who believe Nick Roach, who made 12 mostly solid starts on the strong side in place of the injured Tinoisamoa, deserves the edge entering training camp.
"Pisa played well enough in training camp to win the (strong-side) job. But then he hurt his knee in Week One and never really played enough the rest of the season to prove he should be the starter," one observer said of Tinoisamoa, who was able to play in only two of the first five games in ’09 before reinjuring his knee in Week Six at Atlanta and going on injured reserve.
"Roach had a pretty impressive year. He just flew past Jamar Williams on the depth chart and ended up tying for the team lead in tackles for loss (10 with Harris). He's undersized, but he certainly didn't hurt himself the way he played."
As for Urlacher, whose season-ending dislocated right wrist in Week One last season was a much more serious injury than it might have appeared, and Harris, who has been bothered on and off by a knee injury suffered three seasons ago, the early prognosis is promising.
"They are expecting Urlacher, who has had a long time to heal, to perform at close to a Pro Bowl level," one team insider said.
For Harris, meanwhile, this is the first offseason in three years in which he isn't coming off a surgical procedure.
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