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New Lovie Smith improved version
By Barry Rozner | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 9/29/2010 12:01 AM

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The eternal dismay with Lovie Smith in Bears Nation stems from, at the very least, the unabashed and unmerited arrogance of a coach who's won two playoff games in seven years.

When speaking to the fans, he has been unwilling to admit coaching errors, player mistakes, management gaffes and assistant follies.

And above all else, he has failed to hold his players accountable.

Until, that is, Monday night, when he did the unthinkable and benched the invisible Tommie Harris.

Truly shocking behavior for the nattily attired emperor.

That is actual NFL coaching. It's to be applauded, and it can go a long way toward getting Bears fans back on Smith's side, especially if the result is that Harris shows up the next time he plays.

Either way, it was the right move and part of a stunning reversal from the mind-numbing stubbornness of the last six years.

Suddenly, we have Smith and his assistants making adjustments not just from week to week or half to half, but from series to series.

Granted, new coaches like Mike Martz and Mike Tice would not be here if not for GM Jerry Angelo forcing Smith to make changes in staff, but the fact is the new guys have been huge.

It was like watching a different franchise Monday night, first with Harris and his huge contract benched, tantamount to admitting Harris has been useless and overpaid for years.

Admitting a mistake? We'll need some time with that one.

And then corner Zack Bowman was yanked after missing an early tackle.

Bowman was replaced by Tim Jennings, who had a couple of big hits and made a brilliant fumble recovery that led to the game-winning drive.

Credit Smith with that change as well.

Then there's Tice, who made alterations in the Dallas game that saved Jay Cutler from sure hospitalization, and it was Tice on Monday who rotated in 6-foot-8 tackle J'Marcus Webb to give Clay Matthews a different, bigger and more athletic look from the 6-foot-5 Kevin Shaffer.

Tice, it is thought, is the reason the Bears even looked at Webb late in the draft this year. During a private workout, Webb hit the blocking sled so hard that Webb chipped the coach's tooth.

Then there's Martz, who wanted nothing to do with tight end Greg Olsen when he got here, and the feeling was mutual.

But Cutler got to both of them and created a relationship to the point where Martz now creates plays for Cutler's favorite receiver.

"I talked to Greg as soon as Mike got here and Greg talked to Mike,'' Cutler said. "Mike has never had a guy like Greg. You've got to give Mike credit because he's going to use the best offensive weapons we have and Greg is at the top of our list of weapons.''

And then there's Devin Aromashodu, who was Cutler's most frequent target (10) in Game 1, when he caught 5 passes for 71 yards, but was on the field for only one play in Week 2 and inactive Monday night.

Aromashodu hasn't learned the slot and has dropped too many passes for Martz to believe in him.

"It was a one-game situation,'' Smith said. "We'll go back to practice next week and see who gives us the best chance to win.''

Competition among players? Seriously? Amazing behavior, this actual coaching of players, holding them accountable and forcing them to earn their playing time.

We assume Smith realized that he also has to perform this year, but rather than question why, we'll just take it at face value and enjoy the policy change.

The Bears are 3-0, and it's a stunning turn from the team that looked so dreadful in the preseason.

Of course, all of the reasons for concern in the preseason still exist, and the Bears could be 0-3 right now if not for some very good fortune, odd NFL rules and silly opponent mistakes.

"Offensively, we've got to get a lot better,'' Cutler said. "I need to get a lot better.''

Yeah, he wasn't good Monday, but there was a lot of miscommunication with the receivers, and Cutler also was flat on his back half the time.

If the Bears don't figure out a way to keep Cutler from getting hit 10 times a game, which is his average through three games, he's not going to get up after one of them and there goes your dream season.

Nevertheless, this is the NFL, where deserving to win and actually winning are two completely different discussions.

So far it's all victories and it's making football season fun in Chicago again.

You're allowed to hope it lasts.

• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM.