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.

Roquan Smith helps shear a sheep at Bears community event

Roquan Smith helps shear a sheep at Bears community event

Roquan Smith has more sheared sheep than tackles on his stat sheet as a pro football player.

Smith and several other Bears rookies participated in a hands-on community event at Lambs Farm in Libertyville, Illinois on Monday where he assisted farm staff with the sheep's grooming. Smith said it was a first for him despite growing up around animals. 

"It's like on the norm for me though, playing linebacker you're in the trenches," Smith said of the experience.

"Shaving a sheep, I never really envisioned myself doing something like that," Smith said via ChicagoBears.com. "I was around animals [growing up], but it was more so cows and goats here and there and dogs and cats. I've petted a sheep before, but never actually flipped one and shaved one."

Bears rookies got up close and personal with more than just sheep.

Smith was selected with the eighth overall pick in April's draft and will assume a starting role opposite Danny Trevathan at inside linebacker this season. Here's to hoping he can wrangle opposing ball-carriers like a sheep waiting to be sheared.

The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

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USA Today Sports Images

The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

Asking players about how the defense is “ahead” of the offense is a yearly right of passage during OTAs, sort of like how every baseball team has about half its players saying they’re in the best shape of their life during spring training. So that Vic Fangio’s defense is ahead of Matt Nagy’s offense right now isn’t surprising, and it's certainly not concerning. 

But Nagy is also working to install his offense right now during OTAs to build a foundation for training camp. So does the defense — the core of which is returning with plenty of experience in Fangio’s system — being ahead of the offense hurt those efforts?

“It’s actually good for us because we’re getting an experienced defense,” Nagy said. “My message to the team on the offensive side is just be patient and don’t get frustrated. They understand that they’re going to play a little bit faster than us right now. We’ll have some growing pains, but we’ll get back to square one in training camp.”

We’ll have a chance to hear from the Bears’ offensive players following Wednesday’s practice, but for now, the guys on Fangio’s defense have come away impressed with that Nagy’s offense can be. 

“The offense is a lot … just very tough,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “They’re moving well. They’re faster. They’re throwing a lot of different looks at us and that’s just Nagy’s offense. If I was a receiver I would love to play in this offense, just because you get to do so many different things and you get so many different plays. It just looks fun over there.”

“They’re moving together, and I like to see that,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “We’re not a bad defense. They’re practicing against us, so they’re getting better every day, and vice versa. It’s a daily grind. It’s going to be tough, but those guys, they got the right pieces. I like what I see out there. When somebody makes a play, they’re gone. Everybody can run over there. It’s the right fit for Mitch, it’s the right fit for the receivers, the running backs.”

Still, for all the praise above, the defense is “winning” more, at least as much as it can without the pads on. But the offense is still having some flashes, even as it collectively learns the terminology, concepts and formations used by Nagy. 

And that leads to a competitive atmosphere at Halas Hall, led by the Bears’ new head coach. 

“He’s an offensive coach and last year coach (John) Fox, I couldn’t really talk stuff to (him) because he’s a defensive coach and it’s like Nagy’s offense so if I get a pick or something, I mean, I like to talk stuff to him,” Amukamara said. “He’ll say something like ‘we’re coming at you 2-0.’ Stuff like that. That just brings out the competition and you always want that in your head coach.”