Bears coach no problem benching players
LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith insisted he has "no complaints" about Tommie Harris, except in one key area, apparently — his production.
Put simply, it's not there.
That's why the three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle was inactive for the Bears' 20-17 win over the Green Bay Packers on Monday night.
"Tommie's always motivated," Smith said. "I have no complaints about how Tommie Harris has done anything this offseason, what he's done on the practice field. We just felt based on performance and where we were at the time that someone else deserved an opportunity — to let's just see exactly what we have in Marcus (Harrison). You could say the same thing about Marcus, but he hadn't gotten an opportunity to play. Don't have any complaints about Tommie. Tommie will go through practice this week and may be up this week."
Harris did not make himself available for comment on Wednesday, but this was not the first time he was a healthy scratch.
Smith benched him for a game last year, and the Bears suspended him for one in 2008 because of detrimental conduct. He has also been limited by knee and hamstring problems the past few years, but while he's been practicing more than in recent seasons, he had just one tackle without a sack through the first two games.
The increased workload during the week hasn't translated to more production on game day. Smith was at a loss to explain why.
"That's what we're trying to figure out, alright?" he said. "You don't have to figure all of that out after three games. We're going to go back to the practice field again. ... We like what Tommie has done. Sometimes taking a week off helps for whatever reason, too. But Tommie is still a big part of what we're going to do around here."
Harris is hardly playing up to his havoc-wreaking standards of old, even with opponents loading up on newcomer Julius Peppers.
Former Tampa Bay star Warren Sapp even compared him to a "blind dog in a meathouse" during an interview with Chicago's WSCR-AM two weeks ago, and Smith decided Monday that the Bears were better off with Matt Toeaina starting and Harrison getting a look after being inactive the first two games.
Still, at 3-0 the Bears are the lone undefeated team in the NFC after back-to-back wins over teams that are widely viewed as contenders, Dallas and Green Bay.
Linebacker Brian Urlacher is looking like his old self after missing almost all of last year with a wrist injury. Jay Cutler and new offensive coordinator Mike Martz seem to be a good fit so far. And Smith seems to be holding players accountable for their play, after being criticized in the past for sticking too long with Orlando Pace and Adam Archuleta.
Besides Harris, he held out struggling receiver Devin Aromashodu against the Packers and didn't hesitate to give cornerback Zackary Bowman the quick hook, after he missed a tackle on James Jones, in favor of Tim Jennings.
The message from Smith, even if he dismissed the idea that he's getting tougher, seems clear: Whether you're a three-time Pro Bowler or a third-year player, you won't play if you don't produce.
Maybe it's not surprising, since Smith and other coaches — the ones who weren't let go — were given a stern message from ownership during the offseason: Win now.
"As players, you have to go out and do the best you can and show in practice that you deserve to be one of the 46 guys up," tight end Greg Olsen said. "That's the approach that everyone takes. I think that's the approach that Tommie's taken to it. I think he's handled it well, and he's going to continue to work because he's a great player. I think in the end, this will be a positive for everybody."
Linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa said, "Our standards are very high."