Live and hitting

BOURBONNAIS -- This time, there won't be a red jersey on the quarterback. It's open season for tackling, and hopefully a few sacks by the Bears defense.

"It's good to go out there and be able to hit somebody or hit a quarterback," Bears rookie defensive tackle Tommie Harris said Wednesday. "I haven't hit (a QB) in seven or eight months, so it's going to be fun and I'm looking forward to it."

Harris and his teammates will begin the first of four preseason games tonight when the Bears travel to St. Louis to take on the Rams at Edward Jones Dome.

The two teams did scrimmage against each other last week in Macomb, Ill., and capped off the three-day session with a 90-minute scrimmage Saturday, but this is a little bit different.

"The football part of it, I think, is about the same, but when you put 70,000 people in there that kind of dictates a little bit more on how you're thinking," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "There's a big crowd, but football is football."

Smith, the defensive coordinator the previous three seasons in St. Louis, will return to the team he helped lead to the Super Bowl in 2001. Smith will try to become the eighth coach in Bears history to win his preseason coaching debut.

"Everybody will play. We want to win the game, but this is still a part of the evaluation process," Smith said. "We want to see guys in different situations; that's kind of where we are."

While Harris will see plenty of action on the defensive line, Smith announced that veterans Bryan Robinson and Alfonso Boone will start at the defensive tackle spots. Harris and fellow rookie Tank Johnson, a Gary native, will be part of the rotation.

"I've been running this defense since I've been in college, so it's a lot of the same calls," Harris said. "Everything is similar to Oklahoma's defense and I feel real comfortable with the plays. It's just getting my production and my level of skill up to pair."

At linebacker, Smith said NFL Europe holdover Marcus Reese, and second-year linebackers Lance Briggs and Hunter Hillenmeyer will start. Briggs is the only proven player, so it will be a crucial game for both Reese and Hillenmeyer in the eyes of the coaches.

On offense, quarterback Rex Grossman will play the entire first quarter, while backup Jonathan Quinn will play the second quarter and possibly the first series of the third quarter. Rookie Craig Krenzel will finish the game.

The offensive line will feature Mt. Carmel grad Steve Edwards at right tackle, along with Qasim Mitchell at left tackle, center Olin Kreutz and guards Terrence Metcalf and Mike Gandy. Free agent pickup John Tait and Rex Tucker, proven starters, will be held out of the game.

"If I said it wasn't a big game for me or anything, I'd be lying," Smith said. "Yeah, it's a huge game. I'm excited for my first game as a head football coach."

BEARS at St. Louis Rams
* When: Today, 7 p.m.
* TV/Radio: WMAQ-TV (Channel 5)/WBBM-AM (780).

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