Damn I getting goose bumps just reading it...
Harris supplants Green as starting free safety
By Larry Mayer
September 14, 2005
LAKE FOREST, Ill. - Checking a bulletin board Wednesday morning at Halas Hall, Chris Harris (my twin brother) thought he was being punished when he noticed that his name had been dropped from the Bears' No. 1 special teams units.
But Harris' anxiety soon turned into joy when coach Lovie Smith informed the rookie sixth-round pick that he had supplanted veteran Mike Green as the team's starting free safety.
"I was relieved," Harris said. "I had a big smile on my face."
Green struggled in last Sunday's opener in Washington, drawing a pass interference penalty that nullified a Nathan Vasher interception and failing to tackle receiver Santana Moss on a 52-yard pass play.
But Smith said the personnel decision has more to do with giving a promising young playmaker like Harris more chances to contribute in the secondary.
"Mike Green has done a lot for us around here," Smith said. "He's been a good player for us. (But) we have a young player in Chris that we think can be a pretty good player.
"We haven't had a chance to really see him in this type of environment, so we want to see exactly what he has in game situations. Chris has got good size. He's a smart player, he's aggressive and he has good ball skills."
Harris is a smart, physical player who was a four-year starter at Louisiana-Monroe. Last season he had 96 tackles and tied for tops in the nation with seven interceptions.
After playing about 10 snaps in the second half against the Redskins, Harris is ready for his latest challenge.
"This is a huge opportunity for me, coming in as a sixth-round draft pick from a small school," said the 6-foot, 205-pounder. "I can try to put my school on the map a little bit. I know my family and all my friends are going to be excited for me when they find out."
Harris becomes the Bears' only rookie starter on defense, but the 23-year-old has displayed poise and leadership well beyond his years since his first practice as a professional.
"What impressed me early on was how quick he picked up the defense," said strong safety Mike Brown. "He was real vocal right away. Right away when he came in he was telling people where they needed to be. To see that, especially from a rookie-telling veterans where they need to be-was pretty impressive."
Harris hopes to emerge as a consistent contributor and feels that keeping his emotions in check will be his greatest challenge, especially on Sunday when he makes his first NFL start against the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field.
"I've just got to show (coaches) that I'm actually ready," Harris said. "I don't feel I'm too young. Of course mistakes come being a rookie, but I've just got to show that I'm poised and that I can get the job done and make some plays. That's what they want to see.
"The biggest thing is that I'm going to have to be calm and cool. If you get too excited you tend not to play as well. I have to stay even-keeled all the way through."
Green, who started all 16 games at strong safety in 2004 before flip-flopping positions with Brown during the offseason, didn't hide his disappoint when discussing the demotion.
"I don't think I deserved it," said the soft-spoken sixth-year pro. "I'm upset because I'm a competitor. I want to win at everything I do.
"I feel like by me not being in there, it's letting my team down, letting myself down, letting everybody down. But that's the way this game is. I know in my heart that I'll bounce back and be back out there."
Despite being dropped from the starting lineup, Green will still be asked to contribute.
"Mike will still be a valuable part of our team," Smith said. "This week his role will be geared more toward special teams. He and Chris will really kind of exchange responsibilities.
"Chris had a great game on special teams last week. Once we see a guy making plays in one (area), we'll try to get him more (playing time)."
Safety Todd Johnson, who replaced Green in the second half in Washington, will continue in the same role, subbing in for a cornerback in short yardage and other running situations.
In promoting Harris, Smith continues to show that he's willing to rely on rookies. Last season Vasher and Tommie Harris emerged on defense and this year Kyle Orton, Cedric Benson and Mark Bradley are being counted on to contribute at the offensive skill positions.
"It's important to play the best player, period," Smith said. "No more than that. Early in the year sometimes you have to work through a few things to find out exactly who the best player is, but I've never had a problem playing younger players. You would like to have your best players be veterans, but it doesn't always work out that way."
Talking about poppin' tags...I'll keep you posted