Biggs: Bears are in a quandary with Harris

The Chicago Bears are not going to cast judgment on Tommie Harris after only five games, but if the first portion of the season is an indication, not even defensive line guru Rod Marinelli will be able to resurrect the tackle.

Harris missed his third consecutive day of practice on Friday, and will not play in Sunday’s game at Cincinnati. It’s not a new left knee injury for Harris, rather it’s the same one the organization was well aware of when Harris was signed to a $40 million, four-year extension before last season. He’s been dealing with pain since playing last Sunday on the artificial surface in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome, and the club has decided some rest might do him good. Through five games, Harris has nine tackles and three stops for loss. He hasn’t recorded a quarterback hit or a sack, and he’s been on the field plenty.

It’s a frustrating situation for all parties involved. The Bears added end Gaines Adams in a trade last Friday with Tampa Bay, and while they needed an added presence from an edge rusher, the under tackle is the signature position in Smith’s Tampa Two. If Harris can’t play at a level that’s even somewhat close to what he displayed earlier in his career when he was selected to three consecutive Pro Bowls, the Bears are in a bind. They don’t have anyone else to play the position with a proven track record for being a disruptive player. Marcus Harrison, a third-round pick in 2008, is expected to start against the Bengals and rotate with Israel Idonije. Right now, they’re viewed as solid support guys, not motors to run the defense.

The Bears paid Harris a $6.67 million roster bonus in March on the heels of a disappointing 2008 season. The belief was that he wound return to form under Marinelli. The team constructed a plan to take it easy on him during the offseason and training camp in order to maximize his potential during the season. He underwent arthroscopic surgery in late March, but nothing significant was found. Smith declared Harris 100 percent at the beginning of training camp, although then Harris was sidelined for much of the three-week stay at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill.

Barring a turnaround after Harris returns—likely next week vs. Cleveland—the Bears will have to think long and hard about a $2.5 million roster bonus Harris has due this coming offseason. He’s simply not playing at a dominant level, and there are concerns about his availability.

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