Tommie Harris Has To Be the Man for the 2009 Bears

Ed LeiserCorrespondent IAugust 27, 2009

CHICAGO - DECEMBER 11:  Tommie Harris #91 of the Chicago Bears looks on against the New Orleans Saints at Soldier Field on December 11, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Unless you've been on Mars the past few months, you probably are aware that the Chicago Bears have an actual NFL quarterback for the first time in decades. 

His name is Jay Cutler.  He is very good at football.  He doesn't like Phillip Rivers.

You know this already—and even if you were on Mars you probably got a text from your buddy telling you about Cutler.

The addition of Cutler is nice for obvious reasons, but the 2009 Bears will go only as far as Tommie Harris takes them. 

Harris, when he is on, is one of the premier defensive tackles in the NFL.  He can pressure the opposing quarterback, cause havoc for offensive linemen, and keep bodies off his fellow defenders, allowing them to roam free to make plays.

Harris, 26, is already a three-time Pro Bowler, and if it weren't for his history of nagging injuries, he would be on his way toward enshrinement in Canton, Ohio.

Today's successful NFL defense usually will have at least one of two components: a physical safety who lives around the line of scrimmage (Bob Sanders, Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu, etc.) or a hell-raising defensive tackle (Albert Haynesworth, Shaun Rogers, Kevin Williams, etc.) that can, well, raise hell for an opponent's offense.

Looking at this Bears roster, I don't see Ed Reed, Bob Sanders, or Troy Polamalu, so scratch that off your list.

Kevin ("house of") Payne is years away from being in that group. Tommie Harris, however, fits the bill of the type of defensive tackle contending teams have. His size, speed, and athleticism will always provide challenges to offensive coordinators. 

Even teammate Lance Briggs has said Tommie is the key to the Bears defense this year.  He obviously knows the importance of having a top tackle like Harris in the fold.

So do fellow general managers across the league.  Just look at the contract that Albert Haynesworth got this past offseason.

The Washington Redskins gave Haynesworth a seven-year, $100 million contract.  How important is the defensive tackle to the Redskins?  Fairly important, based on that large contract.

Cutler will sell seats and No. 6 jerseys will cover every square inch of Soldier Field for eight (hopefully more) games this season.  He may even throw for 300 yards in a game or two this year.

But will he prevent Ryan Grant, Adrian Peterson, and Kevin Smith from bursting through the Bears' front-seven and galloping 75 yards for a touchdown? 

No. Cutler is not superman.  He won't stop Peterson, Grant, or Smith unless he trips them while standing on the sidelines (which seems to be the best approach for stopping Peterson anyways).

Harris, however, can stop those men—with help from his 10 buddies, of course. 

Last June, Harris' contract was extended four years and he was paid handsomely by the Bears—a sign of loyalty, but also an indication that the Bears wanted more. 

More sacks, more forced fumbles, more mayhem caused by Tough Tommie.

Harris has taken it easy this preseason, and why not?  What's he going to learn in two preseason games anyways? 

But new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, who has been credited with turning Warren Sapp into a superstar, will be guiding Harris this season.  Considered a defensive line guru, Marinelli will be in charge of lighting a fire under Harris and getting him to produce the way the Bears front office expects him to.

Harris said he found God last offseason. 

Now he must find opposing ball carriers, and preferably hurt them in some form.

Without Harris active and producing, this Bears defense is very average.

While Cutler's offense will keep things fun and interesting, the Bears defense ultimately holds the key to an NFC North division title.

Harris needs to turn the key for the Bears to get in the door.