Tommie Harris: Better than I used to be

Tommie Harris says he's a better player than he was during his Pro Bowl days. Jerry Lai/US Presswire

CHICAGO -- Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris agrees wholeheartedly with the assumption he’s not the same Pro Bowl-caliber player he used to be.

Just not in the way most would expect.

“I definitely feel I’m not the same player I used to be. I’m better; much better,” Harris said. “I’m mentally stronger, everything. The game has slowed down for me to where I can see it at a whole different level. So I’m better. That’s how I definitely feel.”

Entering his seventh season, Harris has missed just seven regular-season games throughout his career. But various leg ailments (knees and hamstring) in recent years contributed to declines in production and sporadic participation in regular-season practices.

But so far at camp, Harris hasn’t missed a single session; even with coach Lovie Smith giving several veterans customary days off to rest. Harris attributes his improved health to taking a smarter approach to preparation.

“He’s had good, solid work,” defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “The biggest thing to getting better is showing up every day, and he’s in there. He’s getting padded up every single day, and in this game, practice is everything. They key is lining up and getting the work, and he’s doing that.”

Broach the subject of the upcoming season being one in which Harris has something to prove, and listen as agitation creeps into his voice. For Harris, it’s about proving to himself that he can return to previous form.

Because with the addition of defensive end Julius Peppers and the return of linebacker Brian Urlacher, Harris knows the Bears have a prime opportunity to erase the ineptitude of a year ago.

“I can’t talk about it in articles. I’ve got to go do it,” he said. “I’ve worked hard for this, and I’ve worked even harder to get back to that old player; that Pro Bowl player. That’s where I’m going. I’ve learned so much more through injury about how to be that person. At first, when I was doing the Pro Bowls and all that stuff, that stuff just came. I didn’t really know how to practice. I didn’t know how to do anything. But now that I know how, I’m just sharpening my knife every day. I don’t go out beating on my body, doing all this crazy stuff. I know what, and how to work on things each day.”

The Bears are counting on the extra work paying dividends.