With injuries taking their toll, the Bears will be counting heavily on several players to handle increased roles in Sunday's home opener against the defending Super Bowl-champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
Besides Hunter Hillenmeyer filling in at middle linebacker for Brian Urlacher (wrist), who is out for the season, Nick Roach replaces Pisa Tinoisamoa (sprained knee) at strong-side linebacker. Kellen Davis takes over for Desmond Clark as the No. 2 tight end, a position crucial in the Bears' scheme, considering how frequently they use a second tight end with starter Greg Olsen.
Nickel back Danieal Manning (back) and defensive end Mark Anderson (toe) are questionable after not practicing on Wednesday, and backup cornerback Trumaine McBride (sprained knee) is out.
The transition should be seamless for Roach, who moved past Hillenmeyer to earn nine starts on the strong side last year but was hobbled by a knee injury in the preseason and beaten out by Tinoisamoa.
"Pisa is a good player," Roach said. "To have somebody like that on the defense, I was happy that he would add that type of skill level. I didn't take it personal because I was hurt, and the tables turn quickly in this game."
Now the Bears will turn back to Roach, who played most of Sunday's game after Tinoisamoa was hurt on the second play.
"Pisa went out early," coach Lovie Smith said. "Nick Roach came in and played well."
When Davis was drafted in the fifth round in 2008 out of Michigan State, he looked like a steal based on his rare size-speed combination and athleticism. The 6-foot-7, 262-pound Davis caught 32 passes for 513 yards and 6 touchdowns as a senior, while also getting 2 sacks tinkering at defensive end.
But his contributions last season were limited to special teams, since Clark and Olsen each played all 16 games.
"I would have been a lot more frustrated had there not been two good players ahead of me," Davis said.
Last year Olsen and Clark each had more than 40 catches, a role much more familiar and appealing to Davis.
"It's what I've done all through college," said Davis, who did not catch a pass as a rookie. "I hadn't played special teams really at all until I got to the NFL. For me, last year was more of a role switch than this. This is going back to what I'm used to and what I feel comfortable doing."
That was then: The last time Brian Urlacher missed a start, back in 2004 when he sat out seven games with three separate injuries, the Bears went 0-7.
But there was a big difference between that 5-11 team and this team, according to tight end Desmond Clark.
"We (stunk) then, that's all," Clark said. "In '04, we weren't as good of a team as we are right now. We have a far better team. At linebacker, we probably have more depth there than any other position. I think we have enough qualified guys that can come in and step up and play that position well."
Odds and ends: Linebacker Lance Briggs was named one of the team captains, replacing injured Brian Urlacher. - Defensive tackle Tommie Harris (knee), guard Frank Omiyale (ankle) and safety Al Afalava (shoulder) were limited at practice Wednesday.