If the Monsters of the Midway decide this offseason that Tommie Harris is no longer worth a $2.5 million roster bonus in addition to his $1.235 million base salary in 2010, the question then becomes who replaces him.
The trouble is, you don't just replace a three-time Pro Bowler like Harris, especially since he plays the most important position on the field in coach Lovie Smith's version of the Cover 2: the three-technique defensive tackle. Manning the gap between the enemy offensive line's guard and tackle, the three technique has to get upfield as quickly as possible using an explosive first step, which helps destroy running plays before they have a chance to develop and also creates instant pressure on passing plays for the quarterback. After a catastrophic combination knee and hamstring injury toward the end of 2006, Harris has not been able to recapture the magic he once had in the trenches as a youngster – and he's only 26 years old today.
With Israel Idonije better off as a role player, Marcus Harrison more of a nose tackle and Jarron Gilbert focusing on left end as his rookie campaign progressed, even if Harris isn't an elite three technique anymore, his absence would leave quite a void.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Georgia defensive tackle Geno Atkins had a meeting with the Bears at the Senior Bowl in Mobile.
Selected as the Bulldogs' Most Valuable Defensive Player for the 2009 season, Atkins wrapped up his career in Athens with 120 tackles, 11 sacks and 33 tackles for loss. In Georgia's Independence Bowl victory over Texas A&M, he took home Defensive Player of the Game honors after recording three tackles and a sack in addition to a blocked field goal. Also a tremendous student in the classroom, Atkins earned a Certificate for Academic Excellence and was a recipient of the John A. Addison Jr. Family Football Scholarship.
The 6-1, 282-pound Atkins is currently Scout.com's No. 13 D-tackle prospect for the 2010 NFL Draft.
JC's Take: The Bears prefer smaller and quicker defensive tackles up front, but Atkins just might be a little too small to succeed at the three technique.
Putting on a few pounds shouldn't be a problem for Atkins, as he'll no doubt add some bulk in preparation for the draft and would probably blossom physically once Bears strength and conditioning guru Rusty Jones started working with him. But at just 6-1, Atkins might get swallowed alive by enemy offensive linemen, plus he may have a tough time batting down passes at the line of scrimmage. While there is always room for high-motor guys in a defensive-line rotation, Chicago's three technique needs to be special on game day.
With no picks in the first two rounds and free agency due to fizzle because of the state of the collective bargaining agreement, Harris could very well be a Bear again next season for lack of a reliable alternative.
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John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.
Prospect Watch: Senior Bowl DT
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