Bears release DT Harris, Hillenmeyer, Shaffer

275287.jpg

Bears release DT Harris, Hillenmeyer, Shaffer

Monday, Feb. 28, 2011
Posted: 12:07 p.m. Updated: 1:29 p.m.
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The twisting and sometimes torturous Bears career of Tommie Harris came to an end Monday when the Bears released the three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle along with linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer and offensive lineman Kevin Shaffer.

Each of the moves contains different implications.

Harris was the Bears No. 1 pick in the 2004 draft, the first in the Lovie Smith era, but ultimately it may have been Harris relationship, or lack of same, that helped the Bears make a decision that has been expected for more than year.

Harris was due a seven-figure roster bonus this June, a sum the organization was hardly going to pay after Harris lost his starting job early last season to Matt Toeaina, then gave Toeaina a three-year contract extension.

Indeed, Harris may not be all that disappointed, if at all, period. He had come to the feeling last season that he in fact probably would be best served by a fresh start because he felt that Smith still looked at him as the kid he was when he first arrived as the 14th pick in 2004.

Unfortunately, Harris at times didnt help dispel that impression of Smiths. He was suspended for a game in 2008 after being deactivated the week before. He was again on the inactive list for a game in 2009 and then again last season for one game not the performance level the Bears demanded from what they once viewed as their franchise interior lineman.

Harris, hampered by knee and hamstring issues through much of his career, was a three-time Pro Bowler (2005-07), starting 90 of 104 career games played over the course of seven seasons. He had 286 tackles, 28.5 sacks, 38 tackles for losses, six forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries and one interception for Chicago and earned the teams 2007 Ed Block Courage Award and 2004 Brian Piccolo Award.

His departure increases the likelihood of the Bears drafting a defensive tackle in either the first or second rounds, depending on which players remain on the draft board when their turns come.

O-lining

Shaffer started seven (all at RT) of 32 games played for Chicago over the past two seasons. The nine-year NFL veteran has started 93 (55 at LT, 38 at RT) of 132 games played with Atlanta (2002-05), Cleveland (2006-08) and Chicago.

But Shaffer never was able to establish himself as a starter and at age 31 this season was not going to reach that level again. Through training camp last year, line coach Mike Tice praised his versatility. However, when Chris Williams was injured in the Dallas game, Shaffer struggled badly in relief at left tackle, was flip-flopped with Frank Omiyale over to right tackle, and was benched after starting the next two games at right tackle.

His exit is consistent with expected plans to move JMarcus Webb to left tackle after a passable rookie season at right tackle. The plan is expected to be to move Williams to right tackle, where he finished 2009, with Omiyale competing with both for playing time somewhere. But Omiyale has a climb ahead of him and well could return to guard or serve as the swing man at multiple positions, the role Shaffer held in 2009.

Backer up

Hillenmeyers career was at risk last year when he was placed on IR after the preseason with issues arising out of concussions. He was no longer the starter as he had been with Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher for some peak seasons through the middle of the last decade.

Hillenmeyer started 69 of 101 career games for the Bears over eight seasons, recording 458 tackles, 17 tackles for losses, seven sacks, two interceptions, six forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. He added 37 special teams stops and had been relegated to basically special teams over the past season, replaced as a starter by Nick Roach and Pisa Tinoisamoa.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Kyle Fuller heads to injured reserve as Bears make other roster moves

Kyle Fuller heads to injured reserve as Bears make other roster moves

The upheaval that has afflicted the 2016 Bears roster ratcheted up a notch late Tuesday when the Bears placed cornerback Kyle Fuller on injured reserve due to a knee injury and shuffled the depth chart elsewhere.

The Bears waived tight end Greg Scruggs, who was making the switch to offense from the defensive line, and linebacker Jonathan Anderson, while moving linebacker John Timu from the practice squad to the 53-man roster. To fortify the defensive line, where nose tackle Eddie Goldman is down indefinitely with an ankle injury, the Bears signed CJ Wilson, a 2010 draft pick of the Green Bay Packers who has played for the Packers, Oakland Raiders and Detroit Lions, starting 19 of 78 career games played.

Fuller, the 14th-overall pick of the 2014 draft and once identified as a building block of the Bears defense, underwent knee surgery Aug. 15 while the team went to New England for practices and a preseason game with the Patriots. He had been making significant strides in recovery as far as straight-ahead running but was still hampered with change-of-direction.

[SHOP BEARS: Get your Bears gear right here]

Coach John Fox on Monday said simply that Fuller “has a sore knee. It has some medical things that kind of restrict you. When we get that healed up, he’ll go.”

The IR designation does not necessarily end Fuller’s season. Beginning in 2013, under an agreement between the NFL and Players Association, one player per team may be placed on injured reserve and later be brought back to the active roster. That player must sit out six weeks and cannot be activated for an additional two weeks.

With inside linebacker Danny Trevathan out following surgery on his thumb, Anderson had been expected to see additional playing time, possibly with the No. 1 unit. But rookie Nick Kwiatkoski started Sunday at Dallas in the base 3-4 and Christian Jones cycled in with sub packages.

Three starting points for the Bears to salvage their 2016 season

Three starting points for the Bears to salvage their 2016 season

As the noted philosopher once intoned, the past is for cowards and losers. Applied to the 2016 Bears, the latter already applies, though not wanting to look at the recent past shouldn’t be taken as evidence of cowardice, just not wanting to revisit pain.

Looking to the future is the obvious only option for an 0-3 football team.

“You’ve just got to go into every week like it’s a new week,” said linebacker Jerrell Freeman, one of the few encouraging parts of an injury-speckled defense, whose 34 tackles are approaching twice those of No. 2 Jacoby Glenn (19), with four tackles for loss vs. no one else with more than two.

“Every week is a new season regardless of whether you’re winning or losing. You can’t look back, you always have to look forward. Because if not, you won’t give the next team the respect they deserve and have another bad result.”

But the fan base can be excused for expecting a next bad result simply because the Bears have given zero indications that the future will be any better than the immediate past.

That is the signal concern: Who turns this around or, for that matter, even slows the rate of descent?

No Bears team has made the playoffs in a season that began with three straight losses. The 1932 team was winless in its first three, but those at least were scoreless ties. So postseason isn’t a relevant concept anymore except possibly as some sort of punchline.

But one vintage NFL axiom is that things from a game are seldom as bad upon later review than you thought they were at the time (they’re also never as good, either, but good hasn’t shown up yet). And turnarounds do happen.

But those do have to start somewhere. Any Bears season course correction for 2016 has three possible starting points:

A defensive 'village'

The Bears do not have elite talent on defense, meaning that the solution can come only from a marshaling of forces that makes the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

John Fox teams are built on defense, and consensus had the Bears as potentially a top-10 defense before the successive miseries vs. Houston, Philadelphia and Dallas. The Bears have zero defensive star power at this point, which is a problem, by way of understatement.

Fox’s 2011 Denver team started 1-4, then reversed itself and made the playoffs at 8-8 with Tim Tebow as quarterback. (It also had Marion Barber stepping out of bounds and later fumbling away the Bears game, but never mind that for now.) But that team had Elvis Dumervil and a rookie Von Miller combining for 21 sacks. The Bears have a total of four sacks, and players representing 1.5 of those (Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan) are out indefinitely with injuries.

But linebacker Willie Young cut to the chase: “We have to control the running game before we can have fun in the backfield,” he said after the debacle in Dallas with the Cowboys rushing for 200 yards. “I don’t know what was going on. All I could do is ask the guys to give me all you got. One play at a time, just give me all you’ve got.”

That would be a place to start.

[SHOP BEARS: Get your Bears gear right here]

Remember the 'Run and Shoop' offense?

John Shoop might have been the object of ridicule as Bears offensive coordinator. But when he took over after the defection of Gary Crowton to coach BYU, the Bears won two of their last three by running to the point of tackle James “Big Cat” Williams, nicknaming the offense the “Run and Shoop” offense. The linemen loved it initially because Shoop simply loaded up and ran the football and, most important, stayed with the plan.

The point is not to become plodding, which Shoop’s offense ultimately became. But the Bears abandoned the run at Dallas when they trailed 24-3 at halftime, even though they had the ball to start the third quarter and with one defensive stop after a touchdown could have been working to get within one score.

“It could have flipped quickly,” guard Kyle Long said. “One drive, it turns into a seven-point game, and that’s the NFL.”

The need for the Bears to run the football isn’t really worth spending time on. Obvious. The offensive line was built for running the football. But for various reasons coordinator Dowell Loggains has not had success with what was supposed to be the foundation of the offense. The Bears cannot win by being a pass-based team, regardless of whether Jay Cutler or Brian Hoyer or Matt Barkley is doing the throwing.

The Bears will not be blowing out many, if any, teams. Their best option is to wear opponents down in first halves, live with Jordan Howard/Joique Bell/whomever netting 50 to 60 yards in a first half, then turning the two- to three-yard runs of the first half into four- to six-yarders in the second.

Shoop would like that.

Get one win

Playoff chances mean nothing. How good or bad the Bears are means nothing. All that matters is winning, not games, but one game. The next game. As Fox and other players have said, the Bears have not put together one complete game yet. That is not going to happen automatically, but one play, one quarter, one half at a time.

And they know it. “You want to win games,” Freeman said. “There’s no panic. There’s a sense of urgency, that’s for sure. We’ve got to put out this fire and put it out quick, like yesterday or the day before.”