Around the NFC North

Tommie Harris' suspension leaves the Bears even thinner, the Lions are going back to a more pass-happy attack, and the Packers might have to alter their passing attack with a seventh-rounder as the potential starter. Get the top stories this week from each of the Vikings' divisional rivals.

CHICAGO BEARS

Having had enough of Tommie Harris' chronic tardiness, Bears coach Lovie Smith suspended the three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle without pay for Sunday's game at Detroit against the 0-3 Lions.

The 25-year-old, five-year veteran will be docked one-seventeenth of his $605,000 base salary, or $35,588.

Harris has not practiced in at least two weeks and did not play last Sunday because of lingering problems with his left knee that required arthroscopic surgery in the offseason. It's doubtful he would have been able to play against the Lions, even if he weren't suspended.

Anonymous team sources confirmed Harris' pattern of tardiness, which has also included arriving late for scheduled rehab sessions on his knee.

Prior to the start of the season, Harris signed a four-year, $40 million contract extension that included $18 million in guaranteed money, $10 million of which he received this year. But he has rarely been able to practice at all since the start of the regular season, and in the three games he did play, he was a virtual non-factor, recording just two tackles plus an additional tackle for loss.

"Tommie Harris broke a team rule," Smith said after Thursday's practice. "We're suspending him for this week's game. He'll continue to rehab but won't practice with the football team this week. Monday he'll be back with the team, hopefully ready to go. It's always disappointing when you have to suspend one of your players, but nothing's bigger than the team."

Counting Harris, the Bears could be without as many as four starters Sunday at Ford Field, but Smith said Harris' situation would not affect the team's preparation.

"It's disappointing when you have to do that," Smith said, "but as far as disrupting the team, it can't. Injuries happen. Players don't play from time to time, and you have to move on. We played last week without Tommie, so we've been in that situation before."

Israel Idonije filled in for Harris last week in the 24-20 victory over the Eagles and contributed four tackles plus a sack, more production than Harris provided in the first three games combined.

But before his injury last season, Harris had seven sacks in the first eight games, and although he finished with only eight sacks, he played well enough to be voted to his third straight Pro Bowl. He missed four games with a hamstring injury in 2006, but was still elected to represent the NFC in the Pro Bowl.

Based on his past performance and the financial commitment the team made to him, Harris, the 14th overall pick in the 2004 draft, is clearly considered one of the Bears' building blocks.

"It's disappointing, period, no matter how much money someone is making," Smith said. "It's disappointing when you have to suspend a player on your football team, period. I'm disappointed in what happened today and what happened this week, having to deal with this."

Smith remained optimistic that Harris would be back next Monday and ready to contribute.

"This isn't a lifetime sentence or anything like that," Smith said. "Tommie will continue to get his rehab (at Halas Hall), getting ready to help the football team later on in the year. Hopefully Monday he'll be ready to go."

This latest development continues a strange pattern of behavior for Harris, who late last week conducted a bizarre exchange with reporters, referring to himself in the third person.

After intimating that he would play against the Eagles, Harris was asked if he would be 100 percent.

"You knew that from the beginning," he said. "No, I am not at 100. I don't think I will ever be back at 100. Nobody will if you play football."

Asked if he would be close to where he should be, Harris said: "Close. He went on vacation, and I think he just got back this week. We'll see how he goes."

Asked if he injured the knee against the Bucs in Week 3, Harris said: "No. Tommie was just on vacation."

Well, Lovie just extended Tommie's vacation.

DETROIT LIONS

Lions offensive coordinator Jim Colletto plans to open up his attack a little bit Sunday against Chicago. He is likely to use three- and four-receiver sets more often.

"I think we've got to manufacture more points faster," Colletto said Thursday. "We'll probably play a few more receivers in the game a little more often than we've been doing. So that's really the extent of it."

The Lions are 0-3. In their first two games, they fell behind, 21-0. In their third game, they fell behind, 21-3.

The plan coming into the season was to run the ball more to open up the field for wide receivers Calvin Johnson and Roy Williams and to keep the defense off the field.

But the Lions' zone running scheme is designed to wear down opponents over the course of a game. While the Lions have been waiting to wear down their opponents, they haven't run the ball well, and opposing safeties have sat back to take away Johnson and Williams.

Meanwhile, the Lions' defense has been awful.

The resulting deficits have taken the Lions out of their game plan, forcing them to throw to catch up. So now the Lions want to throw a little earlier, hoping that will help them be more balanced over the course of the game.

"The philosophy hasn't changed," Colletto said. "We've got to get on top a little bit quicker. We can't play run-run-pass, run-run-pass, and we're not going to do that. We haven't really because of the score situation, but we want to be a little more aggressive."

After the Lions' last game, a 31-13 loss at San Francisco, quarterback Jon Kitna and wide receiver Roy Williams voiced displeasure with the new offensive philosophy. Colletto said that didn't bother him.

"I don't pay any attention to what they say," Colletto said. "I really don't. They have opinions, and that's fine. That's what they are, opinions.

"I'm not real uncomfortable with what we did in the first two games, but I thought I got a little conservative and didn't let it all hang out enough against San Francisco probably. I look at what I did a lot more than I do with what they did. I put them in situations to either be successful or not, and I'm not sure I did that enough."

Does he feel a need to address the grumbling?

"I don't read the paper," Colletto said. "I'm just happy one day to the next. I get up and go to work. I don't pay attention to that. I've been through this enough times that they can grumble for six days and you can be the hero on the seventh day. And then go back to being a bum seven days later. It goes up and down."

GREEN BAY PACKERS

All signs coming out of Green Bay on Thursday point to a starting debut at quarterback for rookie Matt Flynn on Sunday when the Packers will host the Atlanta Falcons.

As planned, starter Aaron Rodgers didn't practice for the second straight day. Rodgers was again occupied with intensive rehab work for the sprained right (throwing) shoulder he sustained last Sunday at Tampa Bay.

That left Flynn to again take the majority of the reps with the No. 1 unit.

Head coach Mike McCarthy said the focus of Thursday's practice was to get Flynn, a seventh-round draft pick, ready to make the emergency start Sunday.

"I didn't even give Aaron any reps in the jog-through (Thursday) because of that. I wanted to make sure that Matt felt very comfortable," McCarthy said.

McCarthy and offensive coordinator Joe Philbin were encouraged by Flynn's handling of and execution in the offense Thursday. Flynn engineered a touchdown drive in a two-minute drill.

Philbin went so far as to suggest that the starting assignment Sunday would go to Flynn, who helped LSU win the national title in his only season as a starter in college last year.

"If he's the guy out there, we'll be excited to see what he's capable of doing and see his leadership skills," Philbin said. "He's got talent and ability. It'll be exciting to see. It'll be fun to be a part of."

A determination on Rodgers won't be made until Friday, when he has the shoulder re-examined by team doctor Pat McKenzie.

McCarthy hasn't ruled Rodgers out from practicing Friday and playing Sunday.

"Even after (Friday's) practice, you still have another 48 hours before kickoff. So, we do have some time," McCarthy said.

Rodgers also is hopeful of being able to suit up this weekend.

"I'm very optimistic, but we'll be realistic as well," he said Thursday, suggesting the team might opt to play it safe and hold him out a game to preserve the shoulder for the balance of the season.

"It is a long season, but I want to play," Rodgers added.

McCarthy said rookie Brian Brohm, the team's No. 3 quarterback, took some reps with the starting group Thursday.



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