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Archuleta tries to re-establish himself with Bears

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Adam Archuleta and Lovie Smith stood side by side after practice, smiling and chatting like friends who hadn't seen each other in a long time.

Well, they are old pals and it has been awhile since Archuleta played for Smith.

It's a reunion that might have happened a year earlier with the Chicago Bears had Dan Snyder not lured Archuleta to the Washington Redskins with a $35 million contract that made him the richest safety in NFL history.

"I really didn't foresee what happened happening there," Archuleta said.

What happened was a relationship crashed, a free fall that was a "complete blindside" to him. Archuleta fell out of favor as quickly as a disgraced politician in Washington and got traded to Chicago for a sixth-round draft pick in March. Now, he's trying to re-establish himself with the system (cover-2) and the coach (Smith) that helped make him a star with the St. Louis Rams.

"What more can I ask for?" Archuleta wondered. "I'm really happy and I'm really excited to be a part of the team."

A strong safety, he's joining a team with soaring expectations after the Bears reached the Super Bowl last season. He's back with Smith, the Bears' head coach who was his defensive coordinator with the Rams.

And he's in a scheme that will emphasize his strength - stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback - rather than expose his weaknesses in coverage. The Bears won't ask him to cover the top wide receiver. Instead, he'll try to apply pressure, create chaos and control the run. Put simply, he'll be in position to do the things that allowed him to get 15 sacks and 547 tackles during five seasons in St. Louis - unlike last season in Washington.

"Ever since I signed with Washington ... there was a piece of me that said I wanted to play here," Archuleta said.

Archuleta was planning to sign with Chicago before Washington stepped in with a seven-year deal that was impossible to resist. It was apparent by the time the first paycheck cleared that this was going to be another example of money not well spent by the Redskins.

They were asking a hard-hitting converted linebacker with three interceptions and four forced fumbles to play the pass. He had to learn new techniques, new footwork. He had to do it all, and it didn't work.

Archuleta lost the starting job in the preseason and only regained it for seven games after Pierson Prioleau hurt a knee. He was vulnerable against long passes and wound up being used only on special teams for most of the second half of the season.

Instead of contending for the playoffs, the Redskins finished 5-11.

"He was made the scapegoat," said the Bears' Mike Brown, who is moving from strong safety to free safety. "When you watch tape and you know the kind of system they were playing and the types of things they put on him, it really wasn't his fault. It's always the new guy they're going to blame. He got paid a whole bunch of money, so he's going to get the brunt of the blame."

The demotion became a touchy subject for the Redskins. Coach Joe Gibbs and assistant Gregg Williams did not give an explanation for the benching and showed little patience when asked about it last season, offering only vague comments about how Archuleta performed in practice.

"I'm sure they're glad to be rid of me, and I'm glad to be here," Archuleta said.

He said last season "really taught me about balance." He learned what he can and can't do on the field, but the biggest lesson was this: "I'm allergic to negative people."

Then he smiled.

"I just don't thrive in negative situations," Archuleta said. "That's just not in football. When I'm around a negative person, I can't deal with it. It really shuts me down. Whether that's a friend who's constantly complaining, whether it's a coach who has a negative coaching style, whether it's somebody who's always feeling sorry for themselves - I just can't deal with it."

The early reviews from the Bears are positive, which is no surprise.

When he came to the Bears in 2004, Smith showed Brown and other safeties video clips of Archuleta.

"When you watch tape of St. Louis, you realize how good a player he is," said Brown, a Pro Bowl strong safety in 2005 who sustained a season-ending foot injury last October.

Second-year pro Danieal Manning said Archuleta "knows everything" and isn't shy about helping his teammates.

The Bears see a newcomer quickly fitting in, and they wonder why he didn't sign with Chicago a year ago.

"It's natural to think that way," Archuleta said. "What I went through last year is going to prepare me for great things."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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