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- More from Mike Imrem
Only a Halas Hall insider can decipher a Lovie Smith media briefing.
Otherwise you listen and listen and listen to the Bears' head coach. Then, just when you're about to understand something, he obfuscates you in another direction.
That's what happened to this outsider Monday. When Smith left the room I still didn't quite get what's happening with Tommie Harris.
The history here is that when Harris is healthy he's one of the NFL's premier defensive tackles. When he played at that level a couple of years ago, the Bears were one of the NFL's premier teams.
It has been awhile since either was that good. They need him to be the Pro Bowl player he once was, but he drifts further from it by the practice, or supposedly the lack of practice in this case.
When Harris isn't even allowed in uniform on a game day - like Sunday at Cincinnati - it's a big, sad, sloppy story. Without a quality defensive tackle the Bears were destroyed by the Bengals.
A reporter raised the subject Monday by starting, "To clarify - " That's always a dangerous way to approach Smith.
The coach's explanation of why Harris was left off the active roster against the Bengals reminded me of a story about late Yankees manager Casey Stengel.
A couple of baseball writers were in the press box before a 1950s game wondering who would pitch the next day for the Yankees.
One of them decided to go down to the clubhouse and ask Stengel, who went into one of his famously rambling stories about the famously roaring '20s.
Stengel mentioned a couple of old-time pitchers. Let's say they were Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson. On and on he went in a discombobulated monologue that left heads spinning.
Back up in the press box the other sports writer asked, "So, who's pitching for the Yankees tomorrow?"
"I'm not sure," the response went, "but I think it'll be Walter Johnson or Christy Mathewson."
So, what's the deal with Tommie Harris not playing Sunday at Cincinnati? I'm not sure, but I think Smith might have said he thought Mongo McMichael would be a better option.
No, no, no, that can't be. The reason must have been swine flu or jury duty or paternity leave or heavy traffic or something.
Smith began by saying Harris is healthy but a sentence or two later added that the defensive tackle experienced soreness in his knees.
So Harris is healthy but has soreness. I guess that isn't a contradiction or is it, doctor?
Anyway, it was time to ask the Halas Hall insiders about Harris' status.
Their interpretation is that Smith became increasingly irritated that Harris hadn't been practicing during the week, especially considering he wasn't playing well on Sunday either.
Though Smith wouldn't simply say so in so many words - does he ever? - it seems he wanted to let Harris know that he wasn't thrilled with him.
Smith did say he hopes holding out Harris last Sunday will make him better next Sunday. Not healthier, because he isn't unhealthy, but better.
So, either Harris will be back on the field against the Browns or be replaced by, uh, did I hear him say Dan Hampton?