Learning Curve

Lake Forest - Rookie defensive tackle Tommie Harris has had to deal with more obstacles than he imagined in his young pro career, and he's overcoming most of them.

The Bears' leading tackler among their defensive linemen has discovered that not all of his enemies wear facemasks and shoulder pads. Some wear striped shirts and whistles while others dress in suits and work in the league office.

Harris is $5,000 poorer this week but presumably wiser after being fined for knocking Bucs quarterback Brian Griese on his butt Sunday after a first-quarter play was whistled dead. Harris had jumped offside but either failed to hear or acknowledge the whistle and continued unimpeded to the quarterback and finished the play as he has been taught.

The play cost the Bears 15 yards on the field and Harris a lot more in the wallet when notification came via FedEx on Wednesday.

"They gave me the 15-yard penalty; that told me that I was disciplined for my actions," said Harris, who leads the Bears with 2 1/2 sacks and the linemen with 30 tackles. "Then I get another message on Wednesday - Federal Express. The penalty was embarrassing, but the fine hurts. That hurts a lot. The penalty you can make up for; you've got more plays. But the fine, they're not going to listen. You get an appeal and that stuff, but they're just going to keep fining. I like to keep my money. I'm not a big-time spender. I can go help my family with what they're taking away."

Harris was also fined $2,500 for a minor role in a multi-player, petty skirmish with the Vikings earlier in the season. He takes exception to what he considers prejudicial treatment by the league against defensive players, whom he feels are always identified as culprits, even though offensive linemen commit more dangerous acts when they cut defensive linemen with blocks below the waist. He claims the Bucs retaliated against him in that fashion after he dropped Griese, when he was engaged by one lineman and blocked low by another.

"I almost got my leg blown out where the guard (Cosey Coleman) held me up intentionally and the tackle (Derrick Deese) came out," Harris said. "It was good my cleats popped out of the ground because he could have taken my knee out."

Normally when Harris gets double-teamed these days it's a testament to his playing ability, not an attempt at revenge.

"He's a great player," Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "People see that on film. He's so quick. You've got to try to slow him down somehow, and they're putting two guys on him, which helps us out as linebackers."

Having started six games and played four preseason games, Harris is nearing the point where a lot of rookies run out of gas. He claims he feels fine and isn't concerned about hitting the wall.

"Hopefully I'll jump over the wall," Harris said. "I hear a lot of guys talking about hitting the wall, but I feel all right now. I'm doing the proper treatment to take care of my body and hopefully it will last me the rest of the season."

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