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BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Defensive tackle Marcus Harrison was removed from the non-football injury list and will practice for the first time when the Bears take the field in 45 minutes.

Harrison was placed on NFI last Friday when he arrived at training camp overweight at 322 pounds, and with a body-fat percentage that was unacceptable to the team. He failed his physical, and was put on NFI until he got in shape.

Coach Lovie Smith said Monday that Harrison was getting close, and the player said he hoped to be back on the field by Saturday. Well, that timetable moved up for him, and it's a good thing after he missed five practices over the first four days of camp.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Marcus Harrison continues to make progress on the side while on the non-football injury list and the defensive tackle is hopeful he'll be cleared for a return by Saturday when the Bears will practice at Soldier Field during Family Day.

Harrison has missed four practices and one mini-practice thus far with Anthony Adams and Dusty Dvoracek dividing the reps at nose tackle in his absence. Harrison reported to camp at 322, 10 pounds above the weight he said he played at last season. It's a combination of weight and body fat percentage that the team wants him to drop, especially after he had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in May.

Some notes from the afternoon session:

The Bears are entering the most difficult days of training camp where their bodies are starting to feel fatigued after five weeks off. The session Monday afternoon probably reflected that somewhat, and quarterback Jay Cutler certainly was not as accurate as he has been, although he did lead the first offense into position for a 53-yard Robbie Gould field goal in the two-minute drills. Some quick notes from the workout:

Lance Briggs, Hunter Hillenmeyer and Matt Toeania all returned to work.

Jamar Williams did a nice job taking on fullback Jason Davis in inside run drills.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Plenty of action from Fridays' first day of practice that we didn't get to in the print/online edition or in the blog previously. Let's take a look at some quotes from the day.

Lovie Smith on cornerback Zack Bowman, who made a couple plays in practice including securing a bobbled interception.

"Zack had a good offseason. I know he made a couple plays out there today, but that's what we've seen from him every time we've given him an opportunity,'' Smith said. "He's got a long ways to go. Again, all the things that happened so far, none of it's been in pads. We're anxious to see the guys in that next step. But with the opportunity Zack's had, he's made the most of it."

Our spin: Bowman has already become Corey Graham from a year ago. Graham capitalized on a good offseason and then produced when Charles Tillman missed time in training camp. The more Bowman impresses, the tougher it will become for Graham to get a look. At some point you would figure secondary coach Jon Hoke will want to get a look at him though.

Alex Brown on the first workout with new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli.

"It's tough,'' Brown said. "Sheesh. It was everything we thought it would be though. It was more upbeat than OTA's but we knew it would be that way, but we knew that coming in. It's nothing we didn't expect but what you can't really plan for is being off for a month and a week and coming back for football. You can work at it as much as you want, but it ain't the same. It was good out here. You're going to be tired on the first day."

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BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--There was plenty of football and non-football issues to tackle as players reported throughout the day.

You get the sense everyone involved cannot wait to get started Friday afternoon. This is the only weekend the team will be practicing at Olivet Nazarene University as the Bears have Family Day at Soldier Field on Aug. 8, play at Buffalo on Aug. 15 and will break camp before the next weekend.

This is what defensive end Alex Brown said when I asked him at the end of OTA's how he felt the Bears had improved in comparison to other teams around the league:

"I don't know what everybody else has but I tell you what, I like the team we have now,'' Brown said. "I'll tell you that. We're going to be pretty good. We've got to come play and teams change from year to year and people tend to look at what happened the previous year and say, `OK, the strength of your schedule isn't very good or it is.' The teams we have coming in, they're going to be good teams. We're going to have to come ready to play, but we're going to have a good chance to win all of them.

"Everybody knows when everything kind of started changing but you come out and you see guys playing together and see how hard guys are working and over the past 10 weeks just to see how much we've grown, not just as a D-line or a defense but as a team, you see it. We've got to dodge the injury bug. If we can do that and if we can get Tommie [Harris] back healthy, we'll be damn hard to beat, I'll tell you that.''

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We flip back to the defense today in our position-by-position previews and take a look at the defensive tackles on the roster. Four Down Territory is coming Friday when we take a break from position previews so get your questions in. Here we go.

Projected starters: Tommie Harris, 6-3, 295, 6th year, Oklahoma; Anthony Adams, 6-0, 310, 7th year, Penn State

Others

Dusty Dvoracek, 6-3, 303, 4th year, Oklahoma
Jarron Gilbert, 6-5, 285, R, San Jose State
Marcus Harrison, 6-3, 312, 2nd year, Arkansas
Israel Idonije, 6-6, 270, 6th year, Manitoba
Matt Toeaina, 6-2, 308, 2nd year, Oregon

Projected depth chart

UT: Harris, Idonije, Gilbert
NT: Adams, Harrison

2009 salary cap numbers

Anthony Adams $1,087,500
Dusty Dvoracek $723,825
Jarron Gilbert $641,500
Tommie Harris $9,090,000
Marcus Harrison $553,851
Israel Idonije $3,488,533
Matt Toeaina $465,200

Number of defensive tackles on 2008 roster at start of the season: 5/6 (6 if you counted Idonije as a tackle)

Projected number of defensive ends on 2009 roster at start of the season: 5

The skinny: This is the position that will draw a lot of attention heading into the season. The Bears believe in building from the line back and that philosophy was evident when the team used its first draft pick on Gilbert back in April. It was not the greatest need, in fact it was far from it, but the organization is committed to collecting quality linemen. Now all Gilbert has to do is be known for more than jumping out of a pool, but more on him later on. Harris is the motor that drives the front seven and he was brought along with care during the offseason. It made sense. Nothing Harris could have done on the final day of minicamp in March or during some of the OTA's in May and June was going to translate on the field in September when it counts. He has a balky left knee and the team is playing it smart. It's all about getting quality snaps out of Harris when it matters. He was on the field for 623 plays last season spread across 14 games. That's a good number for him this season over 16 games. If the Bears get a solid rotation going they will not have to lean on Harris as much and perhaps will be able to preserve him for the stretch run. That figure of 623 was easily tops for interior lineman. The wild card guy here in the bunch is Harrison. He showed sparks during his rookie season when he had five QB hits, two sacks, two passes defended and three tackles for loss, but he also disappeared on occasion. Harrison has a knee issue that lingers with him. Remember, he had an ACL reconstruction entering his final year of school. He's bulked up or ballooned up depending on how you look at it, and that's probably for more action at nose tackle although he'll probably see time at both spots. If he can step forward--some had a first-round grade on him but the knee issue and the drug bust dropped him to the third round--the Bears will be very much improved. But don't forget Adams. He's been the most consistent performer on the interior for two seasons. Lost behind Dvoracek for the first half of the season, he emerged and you had to scratch your head wondering what took him so long to get on the field. He's stout vs. the run and he adds more of an interior pass rush than Dvoracek, who wore down as the season went along. Dvoracek has finished the season on injured reserve each of his three seasons and he's all the way back from a biceps injury. He could be hard pressed to make the roster. The Bears kept nine linemen going into the 2008 season and Alex Brown, Adewale Ogunleye, Mark Anderson, Henry Melton, Idonije, Adams, Gilbert, Harris and Harrison figure to have roster spots the way we break it down. Injuries could happen and we could be wrong. Both have happened before and both will happen again. There's not a person we've encountered who doesn't really like Dvoracek but he will have to have a big camp and preseason most likely. Gilbert is an interesting guy because he's a little light and who knows if he eventually winds up outside, maybe at left end. But he'll get to learn from Harris and that's a good place to start, especially if Harrison is going to be worked more at nose. Idonije will probably play all four spots on the line before the season is over. Picking a spot for him is tough because he's so versatile. Toeaina is in a tough position just like Dvoracek. Some people really like him as a run stuffer but there will only be so many spots under new line coach Rod Marinelli, the man charged with getting the most out of this unit. Notice we're not diving into the whole subject of whether or not Marinelli can be a savior.

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Switching to defense for our second positional breakdown in our daily countdown to training camp, we'll examine the roster at defensive end.

Projected starters: Alex Brown, 6-3, 260 pounds, 8th year, Florida; Adewale Ogunleye, 6-4, 260, 8th year, Indiana

Others

Mark Anderson 6-4, 255, 4th year, Alabama
Ervin Baldwin 6-2, 260, 2nd year, Michigan State
Joe Clermond 6-2, 250, 1st year, Pitt
Israel Idonije 6-6, 270, 6th year, Manitoba **** listed on Bears official roster as a DT
Henry Melton 6-3, 260, Rookie, Texas

Projected depth chart

Right end: Brown, Anderson
Left end: Ogunleye, Idonije****

2009 salary cap numbers

Mark Anderson $1,054,339
Ervin Baldwin $390,200
Alex Brown $2,882,514
Joe Clermond $315,200
Israel Idonije $3,448,533
Henry Melton $437,808
Adewale Ogunleye $6,464,056

Number of defensive ends on 2008 roster at start of the season: 3/4 (Idonije was listed as a DL at the start of the 2008 season)

Projected number of defensive ends on 2009 roster at start of the season:
5 (including Idonije)

The skinny: Basically you're looking at the same group from 2008 with the addition of Melton, a fourth-round pick out of Texas who is a project. The Bears have to get more production from this unit in terms of the pass rush. Idonije looked to be headed back outside as he dropped weight, but every time you turned around during the offseason program, there he was lined up at defensive tackle. There were a handful of players on the inside who were rested--most notably Tommie Harris and Marcus Harrison--and that was probably a big reason for Idonije's whereabouts. It's probably fair to say at this point that he'll play both spots and that could spell trouble for a tackle when it comes time to make final cuts. Ogunleye is entering the final year of his contract and knows that a strong season will position him for a pay day. Brown could be in line to hit double-digit sacks for the first time in his career and the hope is new line coach Rod Marinelli has the same kind of effect on Mark Anderson that the team believes Jay Cutler will on the team's wide receivers. The Bears used a strict three-man rotation at defensive end last season, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out. Ogunleye (878), Brown (853) and Anderson (490) combined for 2,221 snaps in 2008. There were 1,111 total snaps so some two-man combination of those three players was on the field for all but one play over the course of the entire season. That's why we're not sure where Idonije and Melton will fit in. Obviously, if Melton shows some strong pass-rushing capabilities, they'll make time for him to get on the field. Stay tuned here.

Kevin Payne and Craig Steltz spent Wednesday running with the first team at safety. That could be one of the more compelling positions to watch come training camp, but coach Lovie Smith said the voluntary offseason program has helped answer some questions. Steltz, no question, has been one of the bigger climbers this offseason. The belief is his instincts and smarts will help make up for a lack of range at free safety.

"It's clearer,'' Smith said, of the position. "There are lot of positions that will go down to training camp. We're excited about where we right now, but we have to get there and then we'll really know. The next part of the evaluation process is to see the guys in pads, then in the preseason games.

"I like our preseason schedule, the teams that we have to play to get ready. A team like Buffalo that can run and pass, a similar offense. The next week a physical team like the Giants coming in. The third game of course is normally the game that everyone looks at, and to go on the road playing of course in a prime-time game, all of that is getting us ready for of course the Packers.''

*** Corey Graham was not in the mix at safety. He's been playing nickel cornerback since Danieal Manning was "nicked'' last week. Graham has gotten work at nickel, safety and cornerback this offseason. Graham played nickel for two games last season.

"You're just trying to find a way to play no matter where it is--safety, corner or nickel,'' Graham said. "It doesn't really matter to me. I just want to get out on the field and try to help out.''

*** Staying in the secondary, Charles Tillman was out as he continues to work his way back from shoulder surgery. Zack Bowman got work at left corner with the starters, and Smith singled him out for his work the past few months. Proving he can stay healthy moving forward will be the key.

The player who stood out Wednesday was Trumaine McBride, who was with the second team at right corner. McBride picked off a pass that went off the hands of Devin Hester and then broke up passes to Michael Gaines and Adrian Peterson on the next two snaps. Three snaps and three plays on the ball.

*** Caleb Hanie has clearly taken control of whatever competition there is to be the backup quarterback. He's edged ahead of Brett Basanez. Hanie throws a good deep ball and that was evident on his pass to Juaquin Iglesias on the final play of the workout.

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Jay Cutler had one pitch on Wednesday at Halas Hall and it will still get some work to get used to apparently.

While the world coming out of Halas Hall the past few weeks has been that the wide receivers have been catching everything in sight, that wasn't the case at the first OTA of the offseason as passes were routinely dropped. Yes, Cutler's fastball arrives with more heat than what the Bears are accustomed to seeing, but it's not like this workout was the first time the team has been around him. If there are push-ups to be done for the drops, the Bears will have a strong group of wide receivers soon.

"It takes a little time to adjust,'' offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "They know they better get their head around and get their hands up because that ball's going to be there."

Overall, the energy level was high with a lot more excitement than the team had say in March at the mandatory minicamp. Most of Cutler's work was done underneath and he said it was good to work against defensive players. Plenty of national media came in for the unveiling of Cutler and all of the focus was on him.

"No, no, not yet,'' Cutler said when asked if it's his team now. "This is a defensive-kind of run team with Brian [Urlacher] and Lance [Briggs] and some of those guys and Olin [Kreutz] offensively. That's going to come in time. You can't rush things like that. You've got to kind of take things in stride and get guys to trust you and have confidence in you and hopefully by Game 1 they're all behind me."

A few notes:

*** Pisa Tinoisamoa, pictured above watching practice today by the Sun-Times' Al Podgorski, visited with plenty of coaches and players alike during practice before going into meetings with coaches and front office personnel after practice. He will be given a physical during his visit.

*** Josh Beekman worked with the starters at left guard but acknowledged he's in a full-fledged competition with Frank Omiyale for the starting job.

*** Craig Steltz lined up with the starters at free safety and Kevin Payne was next to him at strong safety. Ultimately, Steltz will probably push Payne for the starting job.

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Plenty of football lies ahead. The team's fan expo is scheduled for Sunday at Soldier Field and the first OTA will be held on Wednesday at Halas Hall. Let's get right to the mailbag. We've received several questions recently about defensive lineman Israel Idonije and we'll address two.

Q: My question is about Israel Idonije. It seems like every year he gets moved from tackle to end and then back again the next year. I understand a key to the 3-4 defense is finding the rare player with the attributes to play defensive end. Typically they are players that are too small to be a nose tackle but are bigger than a typical rush end in a 4-3. Doesn't that describe Idonije? Apparently players like Idonije are so rare that Kansas City used the third pick in the draft to grab Tyson Jackson even though some would call it a reach. Jackson is listed at 6-4, 294 pounds and Idonije is nearly identical at 6-6, 297. Wouldn't Idonije be better served by playing in a 3-4 defense? Doesn't he have some trade value? I know he's a big contributor on special teams but isn't the defensive line crowded with the addition of the new draft picks? If idonije was a good fit for the Bears wouldn't he have settled into a position by now?

Chris F., Homer Glen, IL

A: You make some interesting points but we would suggest that a quality nose tackle in the 3-4 is probably the most rare thing. The whole concept of the 3-4 is to tie up the blockers with three down linemen so the four linebackers can make plays. That starts with a tackle who can command double teams and create pileups in the middle of the field on every snap. I am not going to dispute that Idonije has value. There were a couple of games where he really stood out last season. He had a sack, QB hit and four tackles against Philadelphia. He had 1 1/2 sacks, a QB hit and a pass deflection against Jacksonville. There were other moments too. But there were times last season when Idonije wasn't as noticeable, and his playing time dipped over the final third of the year. Idonije has been a career role player for the Bears and for him to have real trade value, some team would have to view him as a starter and a top starter for them. I am sure the Bears would listen to offers but I also know that they believe strongly that you can never have too many defensive linemen, particularly versatile ones like Idonije. He can play all four spots on the line, even the nose in a pinch, and guys like that are hard to find and make life easier on coaches come Sunday.

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When the Bears used two of their first three draft picks on defensive linemen, one of the first questions we had was where are they going to carve out some playing time?

As coaches like to say, that will sort itself out. That is the refrain that signals competition is on the way, the one thing that sorts out players and pecking order more than anything else.

Tackle Jarron Gilbert and end Henry Melton have been added to the mix and all of the linemen from 2008 are back this season.

"They're big, athletic guys,'' new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli said of the draft picks. "They have speed, and they bend very well. In terms of just the size and movement they show, we're very happy with them."

Israel Idonije has been bounced outside to end again but none of the players have left. They're all in the mix for 2009 so it is going to be an interesting situation. The Bears carried 10 linemen on the roster at times last season. They opened with nine but expanded when they promoted end Ervin Baldwin from the practice squad in November to prevent losing him to Kansas City. They went back to nine after tackle Dusty Dvoracek landed on injured reserve in December for the third consecutive season.

So adding Gilbert, the third-round pick from San Jose State, and Melton, the fourth-round pick from Texas, to the roster the Bears now have 13 players for what should be nine or 10 slots. That includes postseason addition Joe Clermond, who was a camp body last summer and spent some time on the practice squad. Clermond and Baldwin, a seventh-round pick a year ago, face an uphill battle. The Bears look locked into keeping five ends--Alex Brown, Adewale Ogunleye, Idonije and Melton--and that means the remaining cuts will have to come from the interior. Matt Toeaina has had a role as a well-liked backup but simply hasn't been given any real opportunities.

But beyond the roster spots, let's take a close look at playing time by evaluating the number of snaps that were shared on the line last season:

Need No. 6--Defensive tackle

Players on roster

DT Tommie Harris (signed through 2012)
NT Anthony Adams (2010)
DT Marcus Harrison (2011)
NT Dusty Dvoracek (2009)
DT Matt Toeaina (2009)
DE/DT Israel Idonije (2009)

Need

If Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith have a hobby, it's collecting defensive linemen and defensive backs. Harris is the key here and is as important to the success of the defense as a whole as Smith is as the new play caller. There was a buzz about Harris not finishing the minicamp last month but what's important--virtually meaningless drills in mid-March or a game in September? When Dan Hampton was still a dominating force in the middle of the Bears' defense, he'd miss practice time with knee issues. The Bears knew exactly where Harris was from a health standpoint when they signed him to a $40 million, four-year extension last summer, a deal that for practical purposes will total $34 million over four years.

We got a lot of questions regarding Orlando Pace and the makeup of the Bears' offensive line and we're going to address that in a separate blog post a little later on. This is our first Q&A since last Thursday, and we will probably do our next one some time over the weekend. Let's get right to it.

Q: I heard you on the radio earlier today suggest that the Bears could trade linebacker Lance Briggs in order to get Jay Cutler. Do you really believe that? He's been their best defensive player since Tommie Harris stopped playing at a high level on a regular basis and I can't think where the Bears' defense would be without him. Tell me you're kidding. April Fools, right?

Chester, Chicago

A: In visiting with Mike Murphy on the WSCR 670-AM, I was trying to make the point that the Bears may have to deal just about whoever the Bears want for Cutler. The Broncos, it's believed, are seeking two first-round picks and a quarterback to start. Who knows if anyone will offer a package like that for Cutler. But there is a chance that Denver could look at Kyle Orton and say, ``no thanks.'' It's hard to say how the rest of the league views Orton, but it's probably safe to say most clubs don't hold him in the same esteem as the Bears do. Predictions of Rex Grossman being a commodity in free agency didn't go over so well, did they? It could be the league frowns on Bears' quarterbacks.

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Marcus Harrison category.

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