BOURBONNAIS - Pisa Tinoisamoa's default facial expression is a smile.
So when the San Diego native claims he has become too old to learn a new defensive scheme, that's the Bears' new linebacker making a self-deprecating joke because he just turned 28.
But just in case, when it came time for Tinoisamoa to choose a new NFL home after the St. Louis Rams cut him loose for salary-cap reasons in May, the seventh-year veteran opted for the chance to travel back in time.
It might be 2009, but Tinoisamoa's getting $1.5 million to relive 2003:
He's in his first year with a team, Lovie Smith and Bob Babich are his coaches, and he's trying to prove he belongs on the field in the Tampa-2 scheme.
"It's the same stuff, which is good," Tinoisamoa said with a laugh. "The good thing is I learned it before. Now I'm just kind of repeating myself."
If Tinoisamoa repeats his rookie year, then the Bears will be giddy. The 6-foot, 230-pounder started 15 games for the Rams in 2003 and led them with 121 tackles while also posting 3 interceptions.
"He's a playmaker," Babich said. "He's just a playmaker. It's great to have him around. He has a great personality and he's brought a lot to the (linebackers) room."
Tinoisamoa paced the Rams in tackles four times during his six years in St. Louis, but that was as a weak-side linebacker. With Pro Bowler Lance Briggs holding down that spot, Tinoisamoa must shift to the strong side.
While most local and national analysts assume he'll own the job by the time the Bears open the season on Sept. 13 at Green Bay, Tinoisamoa and incumbent Nick Roach are splitting practice reps right down the middle.
If Tinoisamoa lines up with the first string during 7-on-7 work, then Roach gets the nod when it's time for 11-on-11 drills.
"And Jamar Williams is in the mix, too," Babich said. "He may not be playing 'Sam' (in practice), but we're going to start the three best linebackers. Whoever ends up starting, it's going to be a great deal because the competition that's going on has raised the level of play."
Roach, the third-year pro out of Northwestern, started the Bears' last nine games last fall and produced a career-high 8 tackles in the season finale at Houston.
"Every year, I feel the job is up for grabs," Roach said. "The coaches, even if you were whatever the year before, they want to make sure they still have what they used to like."
Roach thinks he can deliver more of what the Bears brass likes. Remember, he didn't join the franchise until Thanksgiving 2007, so he's still trying to reach the same level of familiarity with the defense that Tinoisamoa owns.
"I'm trying to play faster," Roach said. "Make faster decisions, react faster. It's a lot more natural. I find myself reacting faster and then thinking about it after - in a good way."