Pro Bowl defensive tackle Tommie Harris returned to practice for the Chicago Bears on Monday (along with CB Charles Tillman), giving the team a much added boost to help a position lacking in depth and experience. Harris had been sidelined since December by a hamstring injury that kept him out for the final month of the season and the playoffs.
He underwent surgery in December to repair a torn left hamstring tendon and was cleared late last week by the Dallas surgeon who performed the procedure to return to the practice field. His return to practice was first reported Monday evening by the team’s Web site, ChicagoBears.com. Although he is not yet at full speed, Harris said his left leg is strong and he anticipates no problem being recovered for the start of training camp late next month.
“It felt good and I wasn’t even pushing it really hard yet,” Harris said after an organized team activities session. The team’s first-round draft choice in 2004, Harris, although only 24, generally is acknowledged as one of the NFL’s premier interior linemen, and he was voted to a second straight Pro Bowl appearance despite playing in only 12 games in 2006. In those dozen appearances, the former Oklahoma star had 48 tackles and five sacks.
Harris’ return is critical to the Bears as they attempt to become the first NFC team since Green Bay in 1996-97 to win consecutive conference championships. Chicago will begin the season without its top three tackles from Super Bowl XLI only four months ago. Chicago signed one free agent defensive tackle, Anthony Adams of San Francisco, a four-year, 6-foot 300 pound veteran and former second-round draft choice from Penn State. The Bears did not use any of their nine picks in this year’s draft for replacements at the position. Nor did Chicago management try very hard to retain Scott or Boone.
Coach Lovie Smith will have to look for production from untested young linemen such as Tommie Harris’ former Oklahoma teammate Dusty Dvoracek, Antonio Garay and DE/DT Special Teamer Israel Idonije — a talented but inexperienced trio with only two regular-season starts among the three — to log significant playing time. So having a fully healthy Harris back in the lineup would be a huge lift.
Monday, Harris said he expects to be 100 percent. The three-year veteran explained to the team Web site and Chicago-area reporters that his injury was not the standard hamstring problem but rather a torn tendon. The chances of reinjuring the tendon, he said, are negligible. “Nothing’s wrong with my hamstring,” Harris said. “It’s the tendon that popped, just like if I tore my biceps or [pectoral]. I don’t have any defects in my hamstring. [The injury] can’t come back. They put sutures in my bone and hooked [the tendon] back. … [It] will never pull again. It’s more likely for the right one to pull than the left because this one should be there for life now because of the screws and stuff. So I should be faster, and I should be stronger, so we’ll see.”
Tommie Harris is considered the second most imporant Bear defender next to middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. He is one of the elite defensive tackles in the NFL ~ with his disruptive penetration. He is a very talented, quick DT. Teams will often double team during the course of a game. He is an improving pass rusher (just ask Seattle during last October’s Sunday nite game) and is strong against the run and his absence in SB XLI was the main reason the Bears could not shut down the run, (and also the fact that their own offense left them out there, 30:51 to 14:09 time of possession), hung to dry-actually to get wet, while the Indy offense ran the ball and ate up the clock vs. a tired Bears defense).
His presence and striking force technique will bring the Bears back to their usual strong run defense (a strength in the Top 5 of the league). Now we will have to see if anyone on the depth chart at DT will answer the call in playing next to him ~ holding off the double teams, best bet is former teammate Dusty Dvoracek. Number 91 is a load to handle – and will be more, condsidering now he will be playing exclusively alongside new, starting sack artist Mark Anderson. He will be a Bear defender down the line to be reckonded with for awhile if he stays healthy.
The numbers don’t lie, if you look at the Bears run defense with Tommie Harris (great) and then without him (subpar) – the Bears truly need him back if they want to make a trip to Arizona next February for another Super Bowl visit.