Benching of Harris Leads to Questions

Not very long ago, Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris was believed by many to be the best player in the NFL at his position. But it's beginning to look like he'll never be that player again.

So, was Tommie Harris benched against the Bengals or rested?

The answer appears to be: "Yes" or "both."

It all depends on how you interpret the whole "Tommie said, Lovie said," wordplay that has confused the issue.

After the 45-10 shellacking the Bears took at Paul Brown Stadium, Harris, who was a game-day inactive after not practicing all week, said he could have played and that his surgical left knee wasn't sore.

Monday afternoon, coach Lovie Smith also indicated that Harris could have played, even though last week he said Harris was dealing with some knee soreness.

Last week, Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said on WSCR 670-AM: "Tommie is healthy. That is not an issue."

But evidently Harris was not healthy enough to practice, and the unwritten rule is: If you don't practice, you don't play.

"There isn't anything wrong with Tommie," Smith said Monday at Halas Hall. "Tommie didn't play this week. It was more a coach's decision as much as anything. He has had some soreness. He didn't practice all week. I thought we had better options."

That sounds like a benching.

Smith was asked if Harris tried to talk him out of the inactive role.

"All players want to play each week," Smith said. "Sometimes, as a coach, you have to say, 'Hey, this is what we're going to do this week for the long haul,' and I made that decision. Tommie will be good to go this week."

That sounds like a rest.

Without Harris, the Bears allowed a season-worst 448 total yards and their most points since Sept. 7, 2003. It's unlikely Harris would have made much of an impact, considering that he has a total of seven tackles this season, according to NFL statistics. Marcus Harrison started in place of Harris against the Bengals and was credited by Bears coaches with six tackles.

"All player decisions [are based] on who gives us the best opportunity to win," Smith said. "Could Tommie have played if I wanted him to? Yes, but I thought we could get a better Tommie if we let him rest this past week and get ready for this week. Tommie should be good to go this week."

But the whole saga has become so bizarre and unpredictable that Smith had to hedge when asked if the three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle would "definitely" play Sunday at Soldier Field against the Browns.

"Well, those are strong words there," Smith said. "But he should be in better shape to play this week than he was last. We gave him a week to put him in a position where he would be ready to go this week. We're here now, so I'm encouraged, and I think he'll be ready to go."

But Harris has to prove he's ready on the practice field, starting Wednesday, a day he usually takes off following every game. In fact, he even took off the Wednesday following the Bears' off week on Oct. 11.

DT Tommie Harris
Getty Images: Jonathan Daniel

"For a player to really prove he's ready to go, it would help for him to be able to practice throughout the week," Smith said, "and we think Tommie will be ready to go all week."

Because the "soreness" has lingered so long after Harris had arthroscopic knee surgery, there has been speculation that the problem might not by physical. But Smith denied there were any mental or emotional problems hindering Harris' recovery.

"Tommie's fine on where he needs to be emotionally, just like the rest of our football team," Smith said. "I don't know exactly how to answer that question. He's just like the rest of the guys. He's going to show up Wednesday, ready to go try to help this team win."

At least that's the plan for now.

Devin Hester scored the Bears' only touchdown and caught eight passes for 101 yards, his first 100-yard game in the NFL, but he wasn't in much of a mood to celebrate.

"You can't even be happy with statistics coming off a loss like this," Hester said. There's nothing to be excited about."

Hester also leads the Bears with 28 receptions and 373 yards and is tied for the team lead with three touchdowns after scoring on a 5-yard pass from Jay Cutler. He's on pace for 75 catches, 995 yards and eight touchdowns, but the Bears are on pace for a .500 season.

"I'm hoping that this can be a real humbling experience for us, to really sit down and evaluate ourselves as individuals," Hester said. "Everyone needs to take it upon themselves and really evaluate and see, 'What could I do to be better than I was this week?'

"We just feel like we came out playing flat. We didn't start off fast, and we definitely didn't finish the game strong." ...

The good news is Matt Forte averaged 4.0 yards per carry, just the second game this season that he's been over 3.1. The bad news is he got just six carries (for 24 yards), since the Bears had to abandon the run game early because of their huge deficit.

Forte didn't care to analyze a comparison between himself and the Bengals' Cedric Benson, who rushed for a career-high 189 yards.

"I don't compare about that stuff," Forte said. "I come here to play football, not to see who is on the other side of the field or who we're playing. I play against the defense."

Forte had some advice for exorcising Sunday's nightmare, though.

"How you get over it is you forget about it," he said. "We've got a game to play next week (at home against the Browns), and we've got to come out and forget about this one." ...

The defense has been without middle linebacker Brian Urlacher (wrist) since halftime of the season opener. Strong-side linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) is not expected back this season, and Harris sat out Sunday's game with a sore knee and said he didn't know if he'd be back Sunday.

But Hunter Hillenmeyer, who filled in at Tinoisamoa's spot, said injuries aren't an excuse, even if the Bengals did score on their first seven possessions.

"Obviously, people will say that this week," Hillenmeyer said. "We've played without Brian all year, and Pisa has played less than a half of total football. So to blame it on the fact that we've been missing guys is letting ourselves off the hook."

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