When Tommie Harris opened the Tribune on Wednesday morning to see a large picture of him over the headline, he immediately had a question about the column describing his mid-season decline.
What took so long?
"Three weeks [ago] I wondered when somebody would put an article in the paper saying we needed an APB [All Points Bulletin] out on Tommie Harris because we haven't seen him in awhile,'' Harris said Thursday in front of his locker. "It's bad that it took that [story] to where my demeanor had to change [or] to say people are watching. So it's time to get back moving.''
There was not a trace of anger in Harris' voice. It was too heavy with resolve.
He sought out the author of the story (me) to shake hands, recalled how he had openly expressed frustration over his own play a week earlier, and vowed to improve.
Instead of brooding over outside opinions players claim to ignore or responding with acts of intimidation as a couple defensive linemen did, Harris displayed an understanding of the realities of his profession better than some Bears teammates, coaches and even media members.
He accepts that the price of being paid millions to play a game for a living in a city passionate about its football team includes being held publicly accountable during good and bad times alike. A first-round draft pick who plays like an MVP candidate through four games and goes sackless for the next seven not only merits scrutiny but expects it.
It was telling this week at Halas Hall, where coverage of the defensive line's diminished sack total became a rallying point for many, that one of the youngest players on the team emerged as one of its most mature.
Harris gets it. He doesn't resent pressure put on him as much as he relishes it. That's the way leaders respond, and why it would be no surprise at all if Harris' slump ends against a Vikings offensive front he dominated in September.
"If I make it through Sunday I get a chance to prove [the perception] wrong, a lot of people wrong,'' Harris said with a smirk. "We're 9-2 and we're complaining about little things. That shows you the expectations people have for the Chicago Bears.''
They will only get higher, as your weekly questions indicate.
I am missing the play of Adewale Ogunleye this season. Is he hurt? --Jerry Allen, Morton, Ill.
Ogunleye missed the Arizona and Buffalo games with a hamstring problem but hasn't been on the injury report so the assumption is he's healthy. He has 3 ½ sacks and a team-high nine quarterback hits, which implies he is beating his man but being hurt by opponents' tendency to use short drops and quick throws since the Arizona game. In a conversation earlier this week, Ogunleye described being a split-second away on many plays and, while believing criticism over a lack of sacks was unjustified, believed he and the defensive line could deflect more passes than they have.
Why were the Bears so ineffective getting pressure on Tom Brady? Why are they also so reluctant to blitz? It seems obvious that the way to beat the Bears D is to maximum protect and neutralize the front four, thereby putting pressure on the back seven -- particularly the back four. Yet, the Patriots were all over Grossman the entire game. It's obvious opposing defenses will be pressuring Rex to try and disrupt him, so why don't the Bears do more max protecting themselves to help Rex out? --Gene Rukavina, Valley Village, Calif.
That's three questions for the price of one. To answer them in order: 1) The Patriots kept an extra blocker in to protect Brady and effectively used quick drops and short passes. On longer crossing routes, Brady also kept his cool in the face of the rush because that is what future Hall-of-Famers do. 2) The Bears still blitzed, though perhaps not as aggressively as they have in the past. Remember, blitzes also put even more pressure on the secondary if they don't work and the Bears' secondary has been hurt by injuries to Mike Brown and Todd Johnson and the one-game suspension of Ricky Manning Jr. As for the Bears using maximum protection to help Grossman, they occasionally do so with either a tight end or a running back but the Patriots' 3-4 defense complicated protection schemes.
After Grossman threw the go-ahead TD pass and said, "$%###$##$$###!'' he must have also told Sharper playing the Vikings secondary was more fun than a cruise on Lake Minnetonka.
Lovie says he is standing by his man, Rex Grossman. But I am hoping that someone is the organization is scoping out a new quarterback. What are the chances the Bears will take a quarterback in the draft? Any chance at Troy Smith of Ohio State? --Kelly Pack, Chicago
Based on many early projections, Smith looks more like a late- to mid-first-round draft pick and the Bears will have other needs to address with their first-round pick (outside linebacker, wide receiver, offensive line). So if Smith somehow drops into the second or third round, perhaps the Bears would be tempted to take the guy who deserves to win the Heisman Trophy. The Bears currently have three quarterbacks with starting experience but would be wise to draft one next April because it never hurts to stock a roster with quality quarterbacks. A team can never have enough.
The Bears' Web site shop has the Kyle Orton replica jerseys on sale for $45 while no other jerseys are discounted. A sign of things to come? Dan Kuber, Lake Forest, Ill.
Only that maybe the Kyle Orton fake beards are going to be marked down soon for the holidays too. But be careful making too tight of a connection between retail decisions and roster moves. After all, some of those No. 18s in stock might be old Mike Tomczak jerseys - or maybe Steve Stenstrom's.
When is Rex going to learn that throwing the deep ball is not always the way to go? It's OK for a QB to take what the defense gives you and complete short passes underneath all the while keeping the chains moving. So whose idea was it to throw the deep ball to a man covered by a guy who already had two picks in the game, with under 2 minutes left to go and a chance to win? And how far and long will the coaches continue to support an inconsistent QB? I see another early exit in the playoffs if Rex doesn't start learning from his mistakes. --Robin, Chicago
Before addressing the merits, or lack thereof, of the deep pass play to Rashied Davis with 1:52 left of the Patriots game, credit cornerback Asante Samuel for making a big-time play at a big-time moment. But you raise a valid point. Is Davis a more ideal target than Muhsin Muhammad, Bernard Berrian or even Mark Bradley at that point of the game? Muhammad looked more open on an underneath route than Davis was deep, but Grossman has become so conditioned to looking for the big play that he went for it all. That's an instinct he has to ignore more often in the final five games of the season when he must reassure the Bears that he can manage a game as well as he can break one open. As far as how long the coaching staff will stick with Grossman, there have been no signs of divided loyalties at Halas Hall even if support for the incumbent QB has crumbled around Chicago.
What do you think about the Bears' offensive line? Seems to me that Grossman doesn't have much time to throw play after play -- seems he's always under pressure. -- Jim Bevins, Spring Hill, Tenn.
The Patriots' pressure bothered Grossman even if they did only sack him once. He was hit nine times. It wasn't their best day and 3-4 defenses have proven to be trickier to solve for the Bears' offensive line than other alignments, which doesn't bode well for any future matchups against Dallas. Protecting Grossman will continue to be one of the key issues down the stretch. But overall, the way the offensive line has developed a rhythm running the football gives the Bears the strength they sought. That's the identity Lovie Smith always preferred and the one expected from a team with so many well-paid veteran members on its offensive line.
Should the Bears not be able to come to terms with Lance Briggs, given the depth on the defensive line, would Mark Anderson be a fit at the weak-side linebacker. He appears to have the speed and instincts. --Mike Monserez, Mishawaka, Ind.
Anderson has good speed and instincts compared to other defensive ends but when stacked up against weak-side linebackers, he would not stand out. Briggs often plays with the quickness of a strong safety, which is what makes him so good in a position that makes the most tackles by design in the Cover 2 defense. Besides, why move Anderson from a natural pass-rushing position where he has shown the potential to be a Pro Bowl performer? If the Bears don't stick the franchise tag on Briggs, they have confidence they can replace him with either Rod Wilson, Jamar Williams or a draft pick the way they drafted Briggs to replace Rosevelt Colvin.