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Columnist
Why can't Smith get more from his players?
By Mike Imrem | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 11/11/2009 4:40 PM

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As long as it's "Get Lovie Smith Week" in Chicago, let's pile on as the Bears prepare to play at San Francisco Thursday night.

It seems to me that Tommie Harris' funk highlights a serious problem for the Bears' head coach.

Like, wouldn't it be great if the Bears had a defensive tackle who disrupts offenses, commands double teams and makes his line mates better?

To say nothing of a ball hawking cornerback, a kick returner who is an automated touchdown machine, a defensive end who provides double-digit sacks, and a running back who bursts like he's on the way to more than 1,200 rushing yards?

You know like Harris, Nathan Vasher, Devin Hester, Mark Anderson and Matt Forte were earlier in their NFL careers?

What happened to those guys, anyway? Can't the club's talent gap be attributed to their drop-off of at least those five players?

Injuries detoured some of them but players on other teams recover to be as good as ever. Big contracts distracted some but other coaches can motivate the highly rewarded to play better than ever.

Too many Bears devolve instead evolve. Not getting better is bad but getting worse is, well, worse.

It's enough to make us settle for Jay Cutler remaining what he was when he arrived here. Heck, all we can do is hope we haven't seen the best of Johnny Knox already.

Anyway, let's focus on Harris for a moment since he was in the news this week for all the wrong reasons again.

Harris entered the NFL as a first-round draft choice. He proceeded to make three Pro Bowls as a happy, funny, devoutly religious person.

Then Harris was injured, received a big contract and became a mess. Smith insists the guy is healthy now yet he no longer plays or behaves like it.

Smith had to suspend Harris for a game last season and exile him to the inactive list for a game this season. Then there was Harris' meltdown Sunday, when he was ejected for punching a Cardinals offensive guard in the head.

Harris is an extreme case and perhaps no coaching intervention could rescue him.

So maybe it's unfair to blame Smith for Harris. However, the problem is that too many other Bears came into the NFL with a splash before sinking to mediocrity or less.

That doesn't even count Cedric Benson, who was a bust from the start here before busting out in Cincinnati.

Something sure seems askew within the culture of Smith's program and the sixth year probably is too late in any coach's tenure to expect change.

Former Bears general manager Jim Finks built the Super Bowl XX champions by emphasizing the two Ds - draft and develop.

In some cases now it's more like draft and destroy here.

Current general manager Jerry Angelo can't be pleased with how some of his acquisitions regressed under Smith.

Angelo must wonder how good the Bears would be if Harris, Vasher, Anderson, Forte, Hester the kick returner and others were producing more instead of less.

For sure this wouldn't be "Get Lovie Smith Week" and Thursday's game wouldn't be another in a series of referendums on his coaching ability.

mimrem@dailyherald.com