Before the gospel according to Tommie began Thursday, Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris made a point to replace his knit cap with a blue headband that had "Psalms 91'' stitched in orange letters.
It was the same headband Olin Kreutz was wearing on the other side of the locker room, the same one Harris handed out to all of his teammates and even offered the crowd of reporters surrounding his locker.
Whether Harris considered the accessory a team-bonding trinket or actually wanted the Bears to ponder parts of the psalm that could apply to an unbeaten football team -- "No evil shall befall you, no affliction come near your tent," -- wasn't immediately clear. More obvious was Harris' continued comfort in providing the right mix of playfulness and passion on a team where he is still one of the youngest, but most respected players at 23.
"How's that look?'' he asked.
Then Harris, no stranger to the pulpit growing up in Texas the son of a minister, started preaching the truth about this Bears season as he believes it.
"The Bears are who we think we are,'' Harris said, mocking the line Arizona coach Dennis Green uttered during his Monday Night meltdown.
That 24-23 Bears' comeback drained almost as much emotion out of the Bears and Harris, who called the experience "a reality check.'' So just who or what are the Bears 11 days later, Rev. Harris?
"I think we're great,'' Harris said into the cameras.
He stopped, concerned maybe he had provided NFL congregations in San Francisco, Miami or anybody else watching his sermon on satellite TV a little too much fire-and-brimstone talk.
"No, I think we're good,'' Harris said, "with the potential to be great.''
At 6-0, who's going to question that?
Speaking of questions...
With the Bears-Giants game moved to Sunday night (Nov. 12), are the Bears at their maximum number of prime-time games or can other games be moved as well? --Alan Ott, Grantsburg, Wis.
By the end of December, the Bears might be NBC's biggest hit this side of "Deal or No Deal." Other games that could be moved into Sunday night prime-time are the Nov. 26 game at New England and the Dec. 3 home matchup against Minnesota, if for no other reason than to show off the Chicago skyline one more time. And -- Bearologists surely have hypothesized -- would the network be able to resist the Dec. 17 game against Tampa Bay if the Bears enter 13-0?
I recall that the Bears for the last couple of years would cause themselves a lot of grief by committing a lot of penalties. What are your thoughts on how well or bad the Bears have been with penalties so far compared to the past? --Tony, Osaka
Dumb penalties indeed seemed like a bugaboo for the Bears in Lovie Smith's first two years but the trend so far has changed this season. The Bears have committed 35 penalties for 331 yards through six games, tied for 11th-lowest in the NFL and below the league average of 38.2. That shows an improvement from the first six games of 2005 when the Bears were flagged 45 times for 389 yards. Credit the return of 22 starters used to playing alongside one another, especially on the offensive line, and the maturation of a coaching staff in its third year together.
David, no one has more respect for Thomas Jones than me after his '05 performance. But after watching him dance around and then get tagged for a whopping 39 yards against the Cards, I'm wondering if Cedric Benson should get more time than he's been getting. Do you think if Jones has another sub-par game against another sub-par defense, we'll see more of Benson? Also, how the heck do you pronounce your last name? Thanks! --Andrew, Oregon
It will not take a sub-par game from Jones for Benson to get more carries. Offensive coordinator and will get him more involved than he has been in a running game that has struggled. It's put up or shut up time for Benson, especially after critical comments about the coaching staff's communication this week he acknowledged Thursday were stronger than he intended.
Jones might benefit from staying fresh because he has been injured around this time of the year in each of the past two seasons. He doesn't necessarily deserve reduced playing time but the Bears have to find out what they have in Benson before a brutal three-game stretch on the road and San Francisco and Miami represent ideal opponents. Perhaps coaches can use schematic ways to help Benson overcome his weak pass-blocking. Whatever they do, it's imperative for the long-term future of Benson and the Bears to give him a chance to let his play on the field speak for him -- and if his performance says he's not ready yet, then he can return to the sidelines as Jones goes back to being the featured back.
As for the pronunciation question, it's "HAW,'' but don't worry if you botched it. I've been called worse as recently as the past week.
I noticed during the Monday night game in Arizona that Rex Grossman was struggling with his footwork mechanics. It seemed that he was throwing off his back foot, a la Brett Favre last season, leading to many floating ducks that were intercepted easily. Was I imagining this, or did the coaching staff pick up on it as well? --Brian, Chicago
You could have spotted Grossman's poor footwork in Arizona sitting in a teepee on top of Camelback Mountain. He admitted afterward and again after studying the tape that he rushed throws as a result of trying too hard to make a play and rally. Grossman's mechanics have never been textbook when it comes to his feet. He backpedals wildly at times and lapses into a sandlot habit of throwing off his back foot, which has worked (think Rashied Davis TD against Buffalo) but is risky (think Minnesota). His release point and arm action are sound enough fundamentally to be used in training videos but he continues making progress with his feet and it would be surprising, given that emphasis, if he struggled again against San Francisco.
No one seems to know, what in the world happened to Dusty Dvoracek? --Dave Peterson, Chicago
Third-round pick Dvoracek suffered an injury to his right foot in late August and was placed on injured reserve but has been a regular presence in the locker room going through his treatment and rehabilitation. A good friend of Tommie Harris' from their days at Oklahoma, Dvoracek has immersed himself into the team well enough that he joined a handful of teammates at the WWE's "Monday Night Raw,'' event Monday night at AllState Arena.
Football-wise, he gives the Bears quality depth and protects them against the potential loss of defensive tackle Ian Scott, whose contract runs out at the end of this season.
Why don't the Bears use the shotgun formation? This would benefit Grossman's field vision and assist against blitz schemes. Similarly, running plays such as draws work well out of the shotgun. Can center Olin Kreutz shotgun snap? --C. Kelley, Broken Arrow, Okla.
He can snap out of the shotgun but has said in the past he doesn't like it as much as having the quarterback directly behind center. The protection for Grossman has been solid, for the most part, and his interceptions have been the result of poor decision-making every bit as much as poor pass-blocking so backing up three yards would not automatically improve that. The shotgun also lessens the threat of play-action passes, which the Bears have excelled at this season as teams have geared up to stop the run.
I read on the Bears' official Web site that Hunter Hillenmeyer partially blocked Neil Rackers' field goal in the fourth quarter. How come I haven't heard about this in any of the Chicago newspapers? Is there some way you can confirm this through the videotape? --Marty Stempniak, Oak Park, Ill.
Hillenmeyer told me Thursday that he initially believed the ball grazed his finger, and he still didn't sound 100 percent convinced that it didn't. But when special teams coordinator Dave Toub reviewed the videotape, the Bears concluded that there was no contact with the ball even though it required several replays to make that distinction. So Hillenmeyer wasn't credited with an official blocked kick -- but he wasn't complaining.
Should the Bears have tried harder to sign Terrell Owens, Terry Glenn, Derrick Mason, or any other available receiver? --Yonatan Rozawski, Brooklyn, N.Y.
The minute Terrell Owens became available to the highest bidder last off-season, I suggested Bears GM Jerry Angelo should run the other way like someone was chasing him. As good as Owens is on the field, why would you want a player who is using his attitude to dismantle his third consecutive team? He wouldn't fit in the Bears' locker room. Glenn and Mason have assembled fine careers but the Bears already have invested heavily in a No. 1 receiver (Muhsin Muhammad) and have committed to Bernard Berrian as the No. 2, which is looking prescient.
When will the Bears wise up and get right guard Roberto Garza out of there? This guy is a huge problem with the running game (outside of Thomas Jones inability to find the right hole and gear to hit them with). --Bob, Vista, Calif.
Without breaking down the game tape and examining grades to which we do not have access, has Garza really played so badly it has been glaring? It hasn't seemed so from this chair but it will make watching him try to block San Francisco Hall of Fame-bound defensive tackle Bryant Young more interesting Sunday. The Bears do have depth at the position with Terrence Metcalf, but Angelo liked Garza enough to sign him last January to a six-year extension so you might want to get used to seeing No. 63.
How about this for an idea? Now the Bears have an excuse to shift Charles Tillman over to safety and move Ricky Manning, Jr. into a starting corner slot? --Brian Czosnyka, Chicago
That's a great question considering Tillman indeed played safety in college at Louisiana-Lafayette and his size and experience make him an ideal candidate. But when posed with that scenario last week after Mike Brown was placed on injured reserve, GM Jerry Angelo quickly shot down that possibility. The reason: It's harder to find quality cornerbacks than it is safeties in the NFL and the Bears believe they have three. So while there might be a day Tillman eventually converts to free safety to lengthen his career, it won't be this season. Besides, the Bears have more confidence in replacement Todd Johnson than many fans do. Manning Jr. fits well into the nickel role because of the way he plays the slot receiver.
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