Harris' return a shot in the arm for Bears' D
By Len Pasquarelli
Updated: June 12, 2007, 2:11 PM ET
Pro Bowl defensive tackle Tommie Harris returned to practice for the Chicago Bears on Monday, providing relief and optimism to a position severely thinned by defections and suspension.
Harris had been sidelined since December by a hamstring injury that kept him out for the final month of the season and the playoffs. He underwent surgery in December to repair a torn left hamstring tendon and was cleared late last week by the Dallas surgeon who performed the procedure to return to the practice field.
His return to practice was first reported Monday evening by the team's Web site.
Although he is not yet at full speed, Harris said his left leg is strong and he anticipates no problem being recovered for the start of training camp late next month.
"It felt good and I wasn't even pushing it really hard yet," Harris said after an organized team activities session.
The team's first-round draft choice in 2004, Harris, although only 24, generally is acknowledged as one of the NFL's premier interior linemen, and he was voted to a second straight Pro Bowl appearance despite playing in only 12 games in 2006. In those dozen appearances, the former Oklahoma star had 48 tackles and five sacks.
Harris' return is critical to the Bears as they attempt to become the first NFC team since Green Bay in 1996-97 to win consecutive conference championships. Chicago will begin the season without its top three tackles from Super Bowl XLI only four months ago.
Tank Johnson was suspended by the league last week for at least the first six weeks of the season. The starter next to him in Super Bowl XLI, Ian Scott, signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in April as an unrestricted free agent. The club's No. 3 tackle in the title game, Alfonso Boone, also departed as an unrestricted free agent, joining the Kansas City Chiefs.
Chicago signed one unrestricted free agent tackle, Anthony Adams of San Francisco, a four-year veteran and former second-round draft choice. The Bears did not use any of their nine picks in this year's draft for reinforcements at the position. Nor did Chicago officials try very hard to retain Scott or Boone.
The talent drain means coach Lovie Smith will have to rely on untested youngsters such as Dusty Dvoracek, Antonio Garay and Israel Idonije -- a talented but inexperienced trio with only two regular-season starts among the three -- to log significant playing time. So having a fully healthy Harris back in the lineup would be a huge boost.
Monday, Harris said he expects to be 100 percent.
The three-year veteran explained to the team Web site and Chicago-area reporters that his injury was not the standard hamstring problem but rather a torn tendon. The chances of reinjuring the tendon, he said, are negligible.
"Nothing's wrong with my hamstring," Harris said. "It's the tendon that popped, just like if I tore my biceps or [pectoral]. I don't have any defects in my hamstring. [The injury] can't come back. They put sutures in my bone and hooked [the tendon] back. ... [It] will never pull again. It's more likely for the right one to pull than the left because this one should be there for life now because of the screws and stuff. So I should be faster, and I should be stronger, so we'll see."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.