Bears

Bears release DT Harris, Hillenmeyer, Shaffer

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Bears release DT Harris, Hillenmeyer, Shaffer

Monday, Feb. 28, 2011
Posted: 12:07 p.m. Updated: 1:29 p.m.
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The twisting and sometimes torturous Bears career of Tommie Harris came to an end Monday when the Bears released the three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle along with linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer and offensive lineman Kevin Shaffer.

Each of the moves contains different implications.

Harris was the Bears No. 1 pick in the 2004 draft, the first in the Lovie Smith era, but ultimately it may have been Harris relationship, or lack of same, that helped the Bears make a decision that has been expected for more than year.

Harris was due a seven-figure roster bonus this June, a sum the organization was hardly going to pay after Harris lost his starting job early last season to Matt Toeaina, then gave Toeaina a three-year contract extension.

Indeed, Harris may not be all that disappointed, if at all, period. He had come to the feeling last season that he in fact probably would be best served by a fresh start because he felt that Smith still looked at him as the kid he was when he first arrived as the 14th pick in 2004.

Unfortunately, Harris at times didnt help dispel that impression of Smiths. He was suspended for a game in 2008 after being deactivated the week before. He was again on the inactive list for a game in 2009 and then again last season for one game not the performance level the Bears demanded from what they once viewed as their franchise interior lineman.

Harris, hampered by knee and hamstring issues through much of his career, was a three-time Pro Bowler (2005-07), starting 90 of 104 career games played over the course of seven seasons. He had 286 tackles, 28.5 sacks, 38 tackles for losses, six forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries and one interception for Chicago and earned the teams 2007 Ed Block Courage Award and 2004 Brian Piccolo Award.

His departure increases the likelihood of the Bears drafting a defensive tackle in either the first or second rounds, depending on which players remain on the draft board when their turns come.

O-lining

Shaffer started seven (all at RT) of 32 games played for Chicago over the past two seasons. The nine-year NFL veteran has started 93 (55 at LT, 38 at RT) of 132 games played with Atlanta (2002-05), Cleveland (2006-08) and Chicago.

But Shaffer never was able to establish himself as a starter and at age 31 this season was not going to reach that level again. Through training camp last year, line coach Mike Tice praised his versatility. However, when Chris Williams was injured in the Dallas game, Shaffer struggled badly in relief at left tackle, was flip-flopped with Frank Omiyale over to right tackle, and was benched after starting the next two games at right tackle.

His exit is consistent with expected plans to move JMarcus Webb to left tackle after a passable rookie season at right tackle. The plan is expected to be to move Williams to right tackle, where he finished 2009, with Omiyale competing with both for playing time somewhere. But Omiyale has a climb ahead of him and well could return to guard or serve as the swing man at multiple positions, the role Shaffer held in 2009.

Backer up

Hillenmeyers career was at risk last year when he was placed on IR after the preseason with issues arising out of concussions. He was no longer the starter as he had been with Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher for some peak seasons through the middle of the last decade.

Hillenmeyer started 69 of 101 career games for the Bears over eight seasons, recording 458 tackles, 17 tackles for losses, seven sacks, two interceptions, six forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. He added 37 special teams stops and had been relegated to basically special teams over the past season, replaced as a starter by Nick Roach and Pisa Tinoisamoa.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on if Bears', 2020 NFL season will start on time

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on if Bears', 2020 NFL season will start on time

On Saturday, President Trump talked to several commissioners of professional sports leagues and reportedly told them that he believes the NFL season will start on time despite the ongoing pandemic. A day later, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker was asked about that possibility.

On CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Jake Tapper asked Pritzker if the Bears would be playing in Soldier Field in September, and if there would be fans. Pritzker did not give a definitive prediction.

“Well, the Bears are a great team whether they’re playing or not, but I will say this, it’s not up to us,” Pritzker said. “We don’t know. None of us really knows. But what I do know is this; if the researchers are able to come up with a treatment, something that will save lives, something that will keep people off ventilators, maybe even keep them out of hospitals, then that will be an enormous development for our country and for the future. It may allow us to open things up in the way the president is describing. But the truth is that no one predicts now that we’re going to have that treatment any time in the next few weeks or even in the next month, and no one really knows if we’ll have it by September.”

“What we do know is that if you have a vaccine, that ultimately will help us deal with the problem,” Pritzker said. “Because it’s either going to be a treatment and herd immunity that ultimately allows us to open everything back up, or it’s a vaccine.”

The sports world will continue to hold its breath until there are more answers.

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Open competition might be what Mitch Trubisky needs to salvage Bears' career

Open competition might be what Mitch Trubisky needs to salvage Bears' career

I used this space on Friday to explain why I see Nick Foles as the clear favorite to be the Bears’ starting quarterback in Week 1 of the 2020 season. Based on the information we have, it’s easy to see why Foles should beat out Mitch Trubisky in the Bears’ “open competition.” 

And I very much believe that'll happen. But I do want to acknowledge something here, an unknown of sorts: We don’t know how Trubisky will handle a legitimate competition. 

“The competitor that Mitch is, the way that he was with us was really neat to see because he embraced it,” Matt Nagy said. “It wasn’t about excuses, it wasn’t about anything other than, ‘OK, I understand that, I’m gonna give you everything that I’ve got, we’re gonna compete, and you’re gonna get that best that I’ve got.’”

Nagy and Ryan Pace both talked up Trubisky’s competitive nature when discussing the Foles trade over about 40 minutes on Friday. It’s all they can talk up at this point — anything else about his game or past results would’ve been hot air. Maybe the competitiveness thing is hot air, too. 

But this brings up a question that’s lingered as Trubisky’s career has drifted into disappointing territory, so follow my tangent: Why wasn’t he North Carolina’s starting quarterback sooner in college?

Trubisky sat behind Marquise Williams for two and a half seasons before taking over as the Tarheel’s QB1 in 2016. Williams spent one training camp with the Green Bay Packers before being cut and spent the next few years as a backup in the CFL, AAC and XFL.

Trubisky — the second overall pick in 2017's draft — couldn’t beat that guy out? Huh?

The thing is, though, there wasn’t really a competition in Chapel Hill for the Tarheels’ starting gig. Williams QB’d five consecutive wins to get North Carolina to a bowl game in 2013, then was pretty good in six-win 2014. North Carolina went 11-1 in 2015, Trubisky’s third year on campus, with Williams as their guy. 

Former UNC quarterbacks coach Keith Heckendorf explained to me after the 2017 draft why there wasn’t truly a competition for Trubisky to win. 

“That success we had as a team with Marquise made it hard for us to pull him out of the lineup,” Heckendorf said. “And I think if (Williams’ success in 2013) hadn’t happened, there may be a completely different conversation. It was not for a lack of talent, it was not because (Trubisky) wasn’t capable, but it’s hard to take a guy who had the success — not only as the team winning but individually — as Marquise had and put him on the bench for an unproven commodity.”

Of course, if Trubisky were lighting things up in practice and limited game reps, he would’ve forced UNC’s hand. He didn’t.

But the point is Trubisky’s failure to win a starting gig in college sooner wasn’t necessarily the product of him losing an open competition. He pushed Mike Glennon as a rookie in 2017, but he didn’t show up to training camp in a true “battle” (especially as he QB’d the third-team offense so much). He took over for Glennon because, first and foremost, Glennon was a disaster.

So we don’t really know how he’ll handle a competition the Bears are framing as fair and even.

Could Trubisky all of a sudden grow with the challenge to his job? Could the mere presence of Foles get him to start hitting more deep balls, or make the right reads at the line, or help him avoid those head-scratching interceptions?

Probably not. Football types love to say competition brings out the best in everyone, but it’s hard to see it erasing three years of inconsistent tape.

But we don’t know for sure. For what it's worth, this worked for Kyle Fuller three years ago, when the Bears signed Marcus Cooper and Prince Amukamara and he wound up winning his old job back, and then keeping it.

Trubisky, too, still has more upside than Foles. The Bears would much rather start the version of Trubisky Pace hoped he was getting in 2017 rather than a 31-year-old with 13 starts over the last four years.

Still, Foles is most likely going to be the Bears’ starter when the 2020 season begins (hopefully on time). But the Bears should at least take a look at Trubisky in a true competition.

It may not need to be a long look. But it should be a look.

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