I examined the playing time for defensive tackle Tommie Harris in a story in today's edition.
The Bears have been careful using him in 2009, going all the way back to minicamp in March when Harris was given the last day of the three-day session off. It hasn't impacted his time on the field when it counts, though. Harris is actually playing more (or a greater percentage of the time) through two games than he did in 2008.
2009 1st two games--80 of 113 snaps, 70.8 percent
2008 1st two games--82 of 121 snaps, 67.8 percent
Thus far, it has worked out just like coach Lovie Smith said he was planning in the rotation. The Bears want to ensure that Harris is fresh for important situations--passing downs and crunch time in the second half. On Sunday vs. Pittsburgh, 27 of Harris' 44 snaps came in the second half.
"You start from there and you work from there,'' Smith said of the numbers so far. "All of our defensive linemen that we dress, we feel comfortable playing them. Situations will warrant maybe Tommie playing a little bit more. You kind of see how the game goes but we don't want him to play 100 percent of the time like we don't want any of our defensive linemen to play 100 percent of the time if we can get away from it.
"We haven't played the type of defense we want to play. Tommie is a part of that. We haven't gotten enough takeaways. Our third downs were too high last week. There are some things we have to correct but they are working hard. There is no reason not to believe we will improve and Tommie will lead the way.''
Playing time with Harris has always been worth noting. For starters, he's at the signature position in the Tampa Two scheme, but Smith has always preached the use of a healthy and well-oiled rotation. Second, Harris' contract has clauses in it that are tied directly to playing time. Harris was on the field for only 56.08 percent of the time last season (623 of 1,111 snaps). That was tops among the tackles on the roster, but the figure was reduced because he missed one game with an injury and was suspended for a second game. A rough estimate is Harris would have been on the field for 64 percent of the snaps last if you project him over 16 games, so it's easy to see he's being used a little more than that right now.
There is a de-escalating roster bonus in 2012, the final year of his contract. The de-escalator has a maximum value of $8 million and a minimum value of $2 million. It dropped to $6.5 million after last season, and Harris has to participate in 74 percent of the team's defensive snaps and reach the Pro Bowl each season for it not to fall $1.5 million each year. Even if Harris is dominant and is named an all-star again, hitting the play-time trigger might be difficult. He's reached 74 percent just once in his career.
If he can play at a consistently high level again, and allay fears that his left knee will not dog him, he will be paid again. Harris is 26 and will hit free agency when he is 29. If he plays well, he won't have to worry about a few million bucks tied up in a very difficult to reach de-escalating roster bonus. Smith seems to think he is rounding into form. Rod Marinelli was very upbeat when asked about Harris, and said he sees him improving each week. That will be a good thing for a defense ranked fifth in the league at this early juncture.
*** Practice starts earlier today. I will see if I can get a better handle on the Alex Brown situation, but Smith still seemed confident he will play at Seattle even if he does not practice today. Stay tuned.