Double Trouble

In many ways the future of the Bears defensive line is in the hands of Tommie Harris and Tank Johnson, which doesn't bother the duo one bit. The rookies are not only covering for one another on the field, but also finishing each other's sentences.

Harris and Johnson, the NFL seems a lot easier than playing college ball. Although both players admit to some fatigue after weeks of regularly scheduled on field activities, they are eagerly awaiting training camp and the start of the regular season.

Harris, who played for the Oklahoma Sooners as an undergraduate, hasn't noticed much of a difference in expectations between what he produced in college and what is expected of him now.

"Actually, I find the NFL to be a lot easier," Harris said. "At least so far. In college, things were non-stop. You'd go to your classes, then you'd have practice, then it was time for homework. It was hard to find time to sleep and I'd get so tired. I found the continual balance between the physical and the intellectual completely exhausting. It was hard to keep from falling behind. And of course we had football road trips. Being current in studies while you are traveling to and from games was nearly impossible."

Harris finds the structure provided by professional ball to be surprisingly relaxing.

"What I like is that the day is segmented. This is a job and you treat it as such. There is a time you come in to work out. You are on the field for a few hours. You have lunch and go to meetings, then are on the field once more. When you are done for the day, it's time to kick back and relax. I never feel that there is anything hanging over me."

But what about learning the infamous Bears playbook?

"Ah, there's the catch," Johnson said. "That could be classified as homework. Obviously that's something we do need to know inside and out and the sooner the better. But everything is explained and it all makes sense. You learn a play then you work it out on the field. It's a logical process and it's done in a way that combines learning in lectures with actual time working it through with the team."

Both Harris and Johnson have found that most Bears players tend lead the rookies by example, if not by one on one mentoring.

"Let's face it," Harris said. "We're rookies. We pretty much live in the Halas Hall basement. None of the veterans are going to be paying much attention to us at this point. We pick up what we can by watching them play. This may change by the time we get to training camp. But that's also when the hazing begins."

Both Johnson and Harris find that Olin Kreutz functions as the team leader both on and off the field.

"You know, what I like about Olin is that he is the complete football player," Johnson said. "Although he tends to be quiet much of the time, he leads by example. And when he has something to say, everyone listens. We've been watching how he takes care of himself. Olin seems to have the perfect combination of eating right, working out, and playing well. How long any of us last in the NFL depends on our bodies. I'm hoping that if we do what Kreutz does, we'll be here for a long time."

Do either of the rookies feel burdened by their high draft positions within the Bears organization?

"No, not really," Harris said. "It's something that I'm proud of and I'm sure Tank will agree. We were big names at our respective schools, Oklahoma for me and Washington for Tank. We hoped to go early on draft day and it a big moment for us and for our families when that happened. But one thing definitely is different here. You go out on that field and everyone you see was a hero at his school. They are all highly accomplished stars. And everybody is trying to get a spot on the roster. It can be tough. But I think that our backgrounds in competitive college programs will give us an edge in the sense that we are used to performing well under scrutiny."

Any feedback from family and friends?

"Everybody is so excited," Johnson said. "They can't wait for that first game. It gives me an extra push knowing that I am playing for them as well as for myself. I grew up following the Bears. My family were all fans, most of my friends were too. This is a dream come true and I'm going to work as hard as I can to do well for them and for this team."


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