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Future in flux for Bears’ linebacker Harris

The ex-Cat may or may not have a starting job with Chicago this season.

MATT TROWBRIDGE Citizen Correspondent

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. – Sean Harris, a former Tucson High School and University of Arizona star, is one of five new defensive starters for the Chicago Bears.

Or is he?

”Sean Harris has done everything to deserve the job – it’s his job,” Bears coach Dave Wannstedt says in one breath.

In the next breath, Wannstedt says outside linebacker Barry Minter, who shifted from the middle, where he filled in for an injured Bryan Cox last season, is a starter, but isn’t really new.

”Barry is a starting linebacker,” the coach said. ”He’s been here for four years. The one who has to step up is Sean Harris.”

Harris has done everything to earn the job. He needs to step up. Which is it?

The Bears want it to be the former. To get off their 7-9, 9-7, 9-7, 7-9 treadmill under Wannstedt, they need young talents to emerge, talents such as Harris, a third-round 1995 draft pick from UA who is in the final year of his contract.

But the Bears hedged their bet when they signed former Chicago mainstay Ron Cox (1990-95) before training camp.

”I’m not hear to cheer-lead and watch,” said Cox, who was a backup in Green Bay last year. ”I could have stayed home if I wanted to do that.”

”Ron played the best of all three linebackers the year that he left us, so we know he can play,” Wannstedt said.

The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Harris is the fastest Bears linebacker, and Wannstedt is enamored with speed. But speed isn’t enough. Harris has to tackle.

He missed a couple Sunday in the 30-17 preseason loss to Pittsburgh in Dublin, Ireland. As did cornerback Walt Harris. As did end John Thierry. As did almost everyone on the first-team defense.

Sean Harris, like Thierry, is a hope, a need – but not yet a fact.

”Ron Cox brings a lot more competition to the table,” defensive coordinator Bob Slowik said. ”But Sean has earned his right to work with the first group at this point, and Ron has to beat him out.”

Work with the first group. That’s an interim designation. Starting weakside linebacker is Sean Harris’ job to lose – but it’s also Cox’s to take.

”Sean has got to get in game situations and prove himself productive,” Slowik said.

Said Harris: ”I’m ready. Definitely. I felt ready last year. I still had things to learn, but I felt I was ready. The San Diego game gave me confidence I could play.”

That was the first time the Bears dusted off Harris. He had sat on the shelf, making four tackles in his first 30 games as a pro (he didn’t play in six). Then, with Vinson Smith injured, he made eight tackles in a 27-14 victory over the Chargers on Dec. 14.

”I was disappointed I didn’t get to be a starter last year, but it was V’s job, and I didn’t do enough to take it from him,” Harris said. ”I just sat back and learned.”

He still hasn’t done enough to take a job away from someone, but he no longer has to. Vinson Smith is gone. He no longer has to wrest a job away from another; he just has to keep what presumably is his.

”I feel no pressure,” he said. ”There are 11 men on that football field. I don’t have to be a superstar. Nobody does. We just have to play great defense with everybody doing their part.

”I just have to take control of my destiny. This is my job to lose.”

Or, better yet, his job to keep.

Sean Harris’ career with Bears

• 1995: 11 games played, 4 tackles

• 1996: 15 games, 14 tackles

• Age: 25

• Ht.: 6-3

• Wt.: 245

• Pos.: LB

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