Harris Sees the Handwriting on the Wall................
Harris sees demotion as writing on wall
Safety figures he's out of Bears' plans with Wright, Conte starting over him, Meriweather
By Vaughn McClure, Chicago Tribune reporter 8:38 p.m. CDT, October 13, 2011
Exactly one month ago Friday, Chris Harris quietly expressed his desire for a contract extension in order to finish his career with the Bears.
Now the veteran safety figures he's no longer in the team's plans.
Harris and fellow veteran safety Brandon Meriweather, the starters in Monday night's 24-13 loss to the Lions, were demoted before Thursday's practice in favor of second-year player Major Wright and rookie Chris Conte. Wright is set to start at strong safety and Conte at free safety versus the Vikings on Sunday night.
The news wasn't a shock to Harris, who has learned to expect the unexpected after being traded twice during his seven-year career. He has started 38 of his 43 career games as a Bear.
"They are going with their future, and I'm not the future or in their future plans,'' Harris said. "So they have to see what they have in Major and Chris. It's a business, and I will treat it as such.
"Nobody wants to play a reserve role. I don't think anybody plays this game to play a reserve role. But I can't change (stuff), so there's no sense in me whining about it. I just take the punches and keep rolling.''
It's not a stretch to wonder if another Harris trade is on the horizon. The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday, and Harris' contract expires at the end of the season.
"We all know I'm not going to be here next year, so that's always a possibility,'' Harris said.
But it's hard to imagine the Bears giving up — again — on a player praised by his teammates for his veteran leadership.
Harris, a second-team All-Pro last season, would be the first to say he has hasn't played up to expectations this season. A hamstring strain sidelined him for three games after a season-opening win over the Falcons. His return to the lineup Monday night was far from a success. He took full responsibility for allowing a 73-yard touchdown to Lions receiver Calvin Johnson.
But Harris refused to use the hamstring injury as a crutch for his struggles. If anything, Harris tried to return from the injury too soon.
"I will never blame anything on an injury,'' he said. "In my book if you're out there on the field, you're healthy.''
Injuries have contributed to the Bears' inability to find stability at safety, and a starting duo of Wright and Conte would be the fifth different combination in six games. The young safeties are sure to have a challenge with one of the league's top running backs, Adrian Peterson, coming to town.
Sunday will mark the 28th different starting safety combination since Lovie Smith took over in 2004.
Smith acknowledged the lack of consistency but said, "Eventually, we'll get it."
The Bears began the season with Harris ($1.095 million base salary) and Wright as the starters. Meriweather, a free-agent pickup who was signed to a one-year, $3.25 million contract, moved into a starting spot in Week 2. Now the team's two highest-paid safeties find themselves in reserve roles.
Harris said he hopes to regain his starting job this season, even if he's not in the future plans.
"Just keep coming out here working, keeping a good attitude,'' he said. "Adversity really reveals character. I think I have plenty of it.''