Chicago Bears: Marcus Harrison
"If it happens, it happens," Harrison said Tuesday. "We have a lot of good guys here, so I can't do nothing but practice hard every day and make it tough on the coaches. If they decide to go with me, they do. If they don't, they don't. I just can't do anything but practice hard every day, and that's what I'm doing."
Complicating Harrison's situation is the fact he reported to training camp overweight, which kept him off the practice field the first week of camp. The defensive tackle only dressed for five games in 2010, after starting a career-high nine games in 2009. Harrison recorded a career-high two sacks and two tackles for a loss in his rookie campaign.
Harrison's final chance to make an impression of the coaching staff likely is Thursday night in the Bears' preseason finale against the Cleveland Browns.
"For me, I just feel like I need to be consistent," Harrison said. "I think that's what [defensive coordinator] Rod [Marinelli] wants to see out of me, as far as small things like technique and foot work. Just going out there trying to be dominant and making plays. I'm just pretty much trying to go out there and put it on film because that's what tells the truth here."
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The general rule in the NFL is to wait three full seasons before evaluating a draft class. With that in mind, let's take a quick look at the Bears 2008 draft and the contributions made by the first seven players selected that year by Bears general manager Jerry Angelo.
Round 1 (No. 14); Chris Williams, OT, Vanderbilt: Drafted as the Bears' left tackle of the future, Williams has bounced around from right tackle, left tackle and left guard the past three years. Entering 2011, his role on the offensive line is unknown. The Bears insist they want to put the five best offensive linemen on the field next season, but is Williams in the top five? The former first-round pick missed the first seven games of his rookie campaign with a back injury that flared up almost right after Williams signed his contract and reported for training camp. Ironically, that pre-existing injury caused Williams to sit out only a handful of practices in college. It was a bad stroke of luck for the Bears, who flipped Williams to the right side in 2009, moved him back to left tackle to start 2010, only to slide him inside after he returned from an early-season injury. Confused yet? Think how the Bears feel when discussing Williams' future.
Round 3 (No. 70); Earl Bennett, WR, Vanderbilt: Bennett failed to see the field as a rookie, but he has developed as a dependable and tough receiver the past two seasons. He's not flashy, but Bennett runs excellent routes, possesses great hands, and has a nose for finding the first-down marker. The Bears tend to shy away from selecting receivers in the early rounds -- Angelo did take Mark Bradley in the second round in 2005 -- and this year’s crop of wideouts isn't considered all that strong. However, if the Bears can find a Bennett-type in the mid or late rounds, that would be a strong addition to the roster. Overall, Bennett is looking like a very solid selection.
Round 3 (No. 90); Marcus Harrison, DT, Arkansas: Not good. Harrison battled weight issues the past two years, and was inactive 11 times in 2010. The odds of him making the roster appear to be slim. People raved about Harrison's first-round talent leading up to the draft -- an off-the-field incident contributed to the defensive tackle falling to the third round -- but the Bears haven't seen much productivity from the tackle.
Round 5 (No. 142); Zack Bowman, CB, Nebraska: 2011 will be a really big year for Bowman. After leading the team with six interceptions in 2009, Bowman fell out of favor with Bears head coach Lovie Smith and was replaced in the starting lineup by Tim Jennings in Week 4. A lingering foot injury seemed to put Bowman deeper in Smith's doghouse as the year progressed. Clearly, the Bears aren't sold on the idea of Jennings starting at cornerback in 2011, but the organization is very high on former fifth-round pick Joshua Moore. Even though Bowman has the best combination of size and speed at the position, there is no guarantee he'll be allowed to fairly compete for the job in training camp. If that's the case, what's the point of him being in Chicago?
Round 5 (No. 158); Kellen Davis, TE, Michigan State: Davis' effort was a little spotty early in his career, but after rededicating himself last summer, the tight end has become a pretty nice player. His role on offense could increase next year, but if nothing else, Davis is a valuable contributor on special teams.
Analysis: It's debatable whether or not Williams will be a long-term fixture on the Bears' offensive line. His murky status lowers the overall grade of this particular draft class, but Forte almost makes up for it. On the heels of the Cedric Benson debacle, the Bears had to hit on a running back in the 2008 draft, and they did just that with Forte. Bennett is one of the best receivers on the team, Davis and Steltz are dependable special teamers, and Bowman did show flashes of brilliance in 2009. The selection of Harrison hurts the class for obvious reasons.
After all, Harrison -- a 2008 third-round draft choice -- started nine games for the Bears last season.
"To be honest, I wasn't that surprised," Harrison said Wednesday. "It was me or [Henry Melton]. I guess they were deciding on as to who was going to be that seventh guy [on the defensive line]. I guess right now Henry can bring more to the table because he's able to play end as well as tackle, and he's also able to play special teams. You know you're not going to see me running down there on kickoff. I can't cover that much ground."
Harrison feels his demotion last weekend could be temporary. The defensive tackle hinted he may dress for the Bears' upcoming road matchup against the Cowboys.
"I don't know what it's going to be like next week, but from what I heard, I'm going to be [active]," Harrison said. "I just got to go out and practice. It is what it is. I'm ready to go."
"It wasn't serious at all," Iglesias said before lunch. "I knew it was just going to be a couple of days. I just tried to catch it before it started to get into the season.
“The day before [on Friday], I felt it a little bit, so when I took off running the next day I could tell it was kind of bothering me. I don't really know how it happened, but I just wanted to catch it early."
Iglesias, a 2009 third-round selection, was active for only one game his rookie year. He is currently fighting for a roster spot at wide receiver.
Other players not practicing Tuesday were: Major Wright (groin injury); Harvey Unga (hamstring injury); Chris Harris (sprained back); Hunter Hillenmeyer (undisclosed reasons) and Marcus Harrison (dehydration).
Prized free-agent defensive end Julius Peppers (81 career regular-season sacks) instantly improves the Bears' pass rush. That much is certain. It's the rest of the defensive line that remains somewhat of a question mark entering the 2010 season.
In the three years since Super Bowl 41, one of the Bears' biggest problems has been their inability to consistently harass the quarterback. Everything about the defense is predicated on the ability of the front four to generate pressure, and when it fails to happen, things tend to fall apart.
The Bears made it a point to revamp the defensive end position this offseason, signing Peppers while saying good-bye to veterans Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye. Last year, the two former starters combined for 12.5 sacks, only two more than Peppers tallied by himself during his final campaign in Carolina.
But at the other defensive end spot, new starter Mark Anderson registered only 3.5 sacks, a far cry from his breakout rookie year in 2006 when he had 12. To further complicate matters, Anderson has been in this position before. He was elevated to first string in 2007, but was unable to effectively play both the pass and run, and eventually lost to starting position back to Brown. What has Anderson done to restore the Bears' faith in him? Why was Brown deemed expendable? These are question only Anderson can answer by his performance on the field. The Bears do have plenty of depth at defensive end in the form of Israel Idonije, Jarron Gilbert and rookie Corey Wootton, but it may be unfair to expect any of the reserves to put up high sack totals.
Conventional wisdom suggests Peppers' arrival should loosen things up inside for tackles Tommie Harris, Anthony Adams and Marcus Harrison. At least that's the hope. Adams is a dependable interior lineman, but he's much more proficient at stopping the run as opposed to taking down the quarterback. Harris and Harrison are supposed to be the difference makers. Although Harris didn't play poorly last year, he hasn't been a consistent disruptive force since 2007, the season before he signed a four-year extension. Harrison is extremely talented, but sidetracked by personal issues and illness the last two offseasons.
If Harris, surgery-free this offseason for the first time in recent memory, and Harrison find a way to put it all together, the Bears should be dangerous up front. And if the Bears get after the quarterback, the defense will regain its swagger. But if they don't, Peppers can't possibly be expected to do it all by himself. We've all seen firsthand the effects of a below average pass rush.
It's no longer a cliche when Lovie Smith says "it all starts up front." That could be the theme for 2010.
Unlike offensive and defensive linemen, it's easier to evaluate quarterback play during a non-padded minicamp. This weekend marks the first time Cutler will be on display working with his receivers as they run Martz's precise patterns. We may also get a glimpse at how the Bears plan to utilize tight end Greg Olsen. But for all the attention this offseason paid to tight ends, receivers, and Cutler’s protection up front, the Bears' offense will sink or swim based on the quarterback’s fortunes.
True to his style, Urlacher stayed fairly quiet this offseason. But all reports regarding Urlacher’s voluntary workouts have been positive. When Urlacher takes the field Friday, it will be the first time anybody outside of Halas Hall has seen the middle linebacker in action in eight months.
There also appears to be some uncertainty at defensive tackle, where Tommie Harris is enjoying his first surgery-free offseason in recent memory. Harris remains a major wildcard in this whole equation, considering he's shown: the ability to dominate games from his under-tackle position and the ability to completely disappear from time to time. If Harris can get his mind and body right, he and Peppers could form a scary duo. The Bears would also benefit from a playmaker at nose tackle. Veteran Anthony Adams is a hard-working, dependable leader, but Marcus Harrison needs to take that next step. Up to this point, conditioning issues have prevented Harrison from living up to his full potential. It'll be interesting to see how Harrison looks and moves this weekend, because he possesses the athletic ability to dominate inside, but only if/when he remedies the bad habits.
Chicago drafted Major Wright (third round) and brought back Chris Harris in a trade to add to a talent mix that includes Danieal Manning, Craig Steltz, Al Afalava and Josh Bullocks. Efficient play at safety is one of the key factors to success in a Cover-2 based scheme. Although the roster appears to contain the required individual talent to achieve strong play at the position, the club needs to find the perfect combination at safety, which isn’t always easy.
Manning and Steltz worked with the first team during voluntary offseason workouts, but it’s likely the Bears will roll out several combinations at the position during minicamp. It’s believed that the Bears envision using Manning mostly at strong safety this season, which would mean Harris, Wright and Steltz could be fighting for the open spot at free safety. But based on the depth of the position on paper, some of the safeties could be used solely in situational roles.
As it stands, the Bears receivers are certainly an explosive group with speedsters such as Devin Hester and Johnny Knox in the mix along with Devin Aromashodu, Earl Bennett, Juaquin Iglesias and Davis. But they're young. Martz’s intricate system relies on timing and route precision, traits seen mostly in veteran receivers. The club shouldn’t have a problem with coaxing such attributes out of the current group. The concern would be whether the Bears can get the receivers to gel quickly enough for the club to take advantage of their immense athleticism paired with Cutler’s strong arm by Week 1.
Veteran minicamp will provide at least some indication as to how far the group has progressed. Given the collective talent at the position and Martz’s fast-break system, Chicago’s receivers -- if they can pick up the system quickly -- could be primed for a banner year.