For six seasons in Chicago, Nick Roach was a versatile and valuable linebacker for the Bears, playing both in the middle and outside.
Although he was a durable and productive performer, he rarely got his due while playing alongside two of the most notable linebackers in the NFL in Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs.
The past two seasons for the Bears, the 6-foot-1, 234-pounder from Northwestern started 29 games and was in on 104 tackles. And, when Urlacher was injured in 2012, it was Roach who stepped in to his middle-linebacker spot and played well.
This past offseason, Roach entered free agency at the same time the Raiders – who parted ways with former first-round pick Rolando McClain – were looking for a middle linebacker. It now appears Oakland’s signing of Roach might be one of the team’s most important moves.
After a week of training camp in Napa, Roach has been all over the field, making plays and catching the eyes of both coaches and teammates.
Count starting safety Tyvon Branch as a huge fan of Roach, who will be calling the defensive signals for the Raiders this season.
“That dude is brilliant,” Branch told the Associated Press this week. “He picks up everything quick. There’s no curveballs with that guy. He gets everything the first time around. He’s a very intelligent player. He really takes command of the huddle. He gets guys lined up. … It definitely helps when you have a guy like him out there orchestrating everything.”
Roach joins a unit in flux, with newcomers all over the defense and battles for starting jobs going on across the defensive line, at linebacker and in the secondary, so Roach’s ability to help his teammates acclimate and be in positions to succeed will be crucial. As much as the Raiders needed a play-making middle linebacker, they also needed a leader at the position. Roach appears to fit the bill.
“I’ve been extremely impressed with him as a young man, the way he goes about his business,” head coach Dennis Allen told Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle this week. “He’s extremely smart. He’s just as good against the run as the pass.”
Allen added that Roach was “outstanding” during his time with the Bears and had the character he and general manager Reggie McKenzie were looking for when they said they wanted to remake the roster of this team.
“I talk about guys that we want on this team that love football, are willing to work and put the team first,” Allen told Tafur. “He epitomizes all three of those characteristics.”
Roach, in fact, has been given nothing since entering the NFL in 2007 out of Northwestern. He was an undrafted free agent picked up by the Chargers, who put him on their practice squad. The Bears claimed him and he made a home in Chicago with his hard play.
In the NFL, Roach knows that in order to keep a job, he has to constantly prove he can produce.
“In my mind, you’ve got to make them see something in you to keep you around, because it’s performance-based,” Roach told Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group.
So far, that performance has been an eye-opener in Napa.