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Hayes eager to start at linebacker

LAKE FOREST – Geno Hayes lacks the size and skill of fellow linebacker Brian Urlacher.

But when it comes to confidence, Hayes has enough to match any starter in the league.

“This is not my first time around,” Hayes said Wednesday. “It’s not my first rodeo.”

Hayes, 25, will make his first start with the Bears on Sunday when they visit the Minnesota Vikings. He is expected to start at strong-side linebacker in place of Nick Roach, who will slide to middle linebacker to replace Urlacher as he recovers from a hamstring injury.

On Wednesday, the Bears officially ruled out Urlacher for Sunday’s game. Beyond that, Bears coach Lovie Smith did not provide a timetable as to when Urlacher might return.

“We’re missing a great player,” Smith said. “But you just have to look at Plan B.

“Plan B for us is pretty good if you do lose a guy like that.”

Although Hayes has served as a backup this season, he has plenty of starting experience. He started 42 games in four seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before signing a one-year contract with the Bears in April to compete with Roach for a starting job.

Hayes lost that competition but has appeared in all 12 games as a reserve. He has nine tackles and one pass break-up to go along with five stops on special teams.

Now, Hayes will have another chance to prove he can be an effective starter.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Hayes said. “Any time you get the opportunity to step on the field and make plays, it’s that chance [for you] to go out there and take something. It’s big.”

Health beat: Five players besides Urlacher did not practice Wednesday, but none of them has been ruled out against the Vikings.

Those who missed practice included Earl Bennett (concussion), Michael Bush (ribs), Tim Jennings (shoulder), Brandon Marshall (coach’s decision) and Stephen Paea (foot). Smith indicated Bush and Marshall would be able to practice today, but he did not offer specifics when asked about the severity of Jennings’ injury.

“I don’t know exactly how bad it is,” Smith said. “I just know it’s sore right now, and he couldn’t go [Wednesday].”

Easy target: Robbie Gould is more than a placekicker. He also is a punch line.

Gould’s teammate, Marshall, drew a laugh at Halas Hall when he was asked about the increased number of injuries on the Bears and across the NFL.

“I don’t think there’s one guy that’s 100 percent in the NFL right now,” Marshall said.

Marshall quickly smiled and corrected himself.

“Maybe a kicker,” Marshall said. “Maybe Robbie. But other than Robbie, everyone else is banged up.”

Bears bits: Devin Hester (concussion) and Alshon Jeffery (knee) practiced on a limited basis, which is a good sign for their availability heading into Week 14. … Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston and Tony Siragusa are slated to call the Bears-Vikings game for Fox. ... The Vikings placed ailing receiver Percy Harvin (ankle) on injured reserve, ending his season.

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