Three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Tommie Harris returned to the practice field Wednesday on a limited basis, proclaiming himself rededicated to his team, his profession and his faith after last week's suspension for repeated tardiness.
"It feels great," he said after the workout. "You never know how much you miss something until it's taken away from you. I've apologized to my teammates and apologized to my fans, and [I'm] just getting everything together and getting ready for a strong season."
Despite appearing on the injury list again this week, as he has every week because of unspecified problems with his surgically-repaired left knee, Harris said he expects to be ready for Sunday's game in Atlanta against the 3-2 Falcons. The 3-2 Bears probably need Harris and every other member of a deep and talented defensive line to shut down the NFL's No. 2 rushing attack, led by the NFL's leading rusher, Michael Turner, who hails from the north suburban Chicago area and played at Northern Illinois University.
Despite Harris' persistent complaints about his knee, head coach Lovie Smith said he sees no physical reason why Harris cannot return to the same level he played at the past three seasons.
"There's no reason why he can't," Smith said. "He practiced well [Wednesday]. He's healthy. So, [is there] a physical condition that would stop him from doing that? I can't say that there is."
Harris also said he knew he was making the mistakes that got him suspended but that he was troubled by personal problems.
"Sometimes in life you just deal with so many different things," he said. "They come at you at one time, and it gets hard to handle. But I just thank God for this whole experience. It showed me how much I really appreciate what I do."
Last week it was reported that Harris was troubled by a relationship that led to an out-of-wedlock child and by the release of wide receiver Mark Bradley, a teammate on the Bears and at Oklahoma, but the 25-year-old said there was no point in dredging up the particulars that led to his suspension.
"That situation's over with," he said. "I don't think anything would be improved by me going back on what happened. I've forgiven myself for it, and I think that's all that matters in the end."
Harris signed a four-year contract extension in June that included $10 million in guaranteed money and is expected to pay him nearly $30 million through 2011. He agreed that he should be held to a higher standard on the field, but not because of the money.
"I don't believe that money should make it different," Harris said. "But I believe because of the talent that I have, [I] should be."
Harris said he's confident that he won't need to be disciplined again.
"I'm relying on Jesus now," he said. "I think that's something that I took out of my life, or I was going back and forth [in] my relationship with Christ, and I know that's No. 1 in my life. If that's not right with me, then nothing's going to be right – on the field, off the field, regardless."
Harris also denied that any physical problems contributed to his recent frustration.
"It's vice versa," he said. "I think spiritually, that's what led to all that. My conviction is terrible. I carry a lot of stuff. I carry a lot of stress, different things that I know I shouldn't. That's what happens when you disconnect with your source, and I feel like I'm going back to what's worked for me since the beginning. I look forward to seeing you guys Sunday. Just pray for me. Don't talk about me. Just pray for me.
"Trust me, it works."
Notes & Quotes
Offensive coordinator Ron Turner credited Orton's mental toughness and even-keeled demeanor for a good deal of his continued improvement.
"He's very good at focusing on the next play no matter what happened before, whether it was a mistake or a good play," Turner said. "We always say, 'Play the next play; forget about the last one.' He's tremendous at doing that. In talking to our guys about him in the huddle, they're very impressed with his poise and his composure and his demeanor. Kyle never ever gets too up or too down. That doesn't mean he doesn't get upset if he makes a mistake or anything like that, but he forgets about it and moves on." …
Before he became just the fourth player in NCAA Division 1-A history to rush for more than 1,500 yards in three straight seasons at Northern Illinois, Bears running back Garrett Wolfe played behind the Falcons' Michael Turner, currently the NFL's leading rusher.
"It was great in college," Wolfe said. "Michael was the starter, but we always had a good relationship. Michael was a fun guy to be around because he was very carefree. We still keep in contact today. When I text him, I talk about how big he looks in that uniform. He doesn't really like that too much."
The 5-10 Turner is listed – conservatively – at 244 pounds but appears heavier. It's a bit of a stretch when the 5-7, 186-pound Wolfe has to play Turner on the scout team at practice.
"It used to probably be about 50 pounds difference," Wolfe said. "Now it might be about 70 because Michael's a little bit bigger right now." …
Bears second-year left guard Josh Beekman and Falcons rookie quarterback Matt Ryan played together for three years at Boston College, so it'll be strange for Beekman to root against his former roommate Sunday.
"It's going to be unique seeing him in an opponent's sense just because I played with him for so long," Beekman said. "We're good friends, and I hope for a lot of success for Matt through his NFL career and this season. But I hope [we] get after him. I hope [we] get multiple turnovers."
Although he was primarily a guard in college, Beekman spent two games in 2006 as Ryan's center.
"He's a competitor," Beekman said. "He really did a great job leading us on the field. He was demanding, but we got on the same page. It helped that we were roommates. A lot of the success that he has is just because he works so hard. He demands a lot of himself, and it shows with his level of work."
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