Bears coach Smith expects DT Harris to practice, play vs. Browns

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith wants to see Tommie Harris practicing more often before he puts him into a game.

Smith said he held Harris out of the lineup for Sunday's 45-10 loss at Cincinnati because the Pro Bowl defensive tackle didn't practice during the week because of knee soreness. Harris disputed that being the reasoning, and Smith confirmed Monday that it was his decision to sit Harris.

"Tommie didn't play this week; it was more a coach's decision as much as anything," Smith said. "He has had some soreness. He didn't practice all week. I thought we had better options."

The goal, Smith said, was to rest Harris so he would be healthy enough to practice in the upcoming week and play against the Cleveland Browns.

"Could Tommie have played if I wanted him to? Yes," Smith said. "But I thought we could get a better Tommie if we let him rest this past week and get ready for this week. ... Tommie should be good to go this week."

After the game, Harris was in the locker room briefly and disputed that he was being held out because of injury. He actually went through some stretching drills before the game after being listed as doubtful for action, and he later hinted that he had been benched.

"It wasn't true," Harris said about being held out because of injury. "You talk to them (coaches)."

Harris, who has nine tackles and no sacks in five games this season, added that he hasn't been suspended by coaches.

It has become common for Harris to miss one or two practices per week because of lingering knee soreness. However, he missed every practice last week.

Smith made it clear that in the future, Harris can get back into the lineup by practicing.

"For a player to really prove he's ready to go, it would help for him to be able to practice throughout the week, and we think Tommie will be ready to go all week," Smith said.

Bears teammates suggested that a fresh Harris in the lineup could make an immediate impact.

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"Tommie is like the Energizer bunny as far as this (defensive) front, and we feed off him," said Marcus Harrison, who replaced Harris on Sunday.

Smith wouldn't rule out lineup changes against the Browns after the Bears allowed a season-worst 448 yards, touchdowns on the Bengals' first four possessions and forced only one punt. Smith said any changes made will not be intended as a message but to improve the team.

"I don't think you try to send a message," Smith said. "You look to see what gives you the best chance to win this week.

"We consider personnel changes each week, we look at our scheme each week, we look at everything that we did this past game. We'll do that again this week, but what we did last week didn't work, so of course we need to change some things up."

One defensive position change being eyed is reserve Nate Vasher moving from cornerback to safety. Vasher lost his starting cornerback job to Zachary Bowman this season but played some free safety Sunday at Cincinnati.

"We're just trying to find ways to get some of our players that we think can play onto the football field," Smith said. "Nate did have a few reps. We would have liked to even have gotten him a few more in passing situations, and we'll probably keep that going."

Vasher remains a cornerback on the Bears' official depth chart.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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