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1985 Bears Coverage: One plays, ponders an improved contract; other remains holdout

Every day of the 2015 Chicago Bears season, Chicago Sun-Times Sports will revisit its coverage 30 years ago during the 1985 Bears’ run to a Super Bowl title.

One plays, ponders an improved contract; other remains holdout

Kevin Lamb

Originally published Aug. 22, 1985

Buddy Ryan wants it known that he misses Al Harris, too.

“I don’t understand why people have a low value of Al’s contribution to the team,” says Ryan, the Bears’ defensive coordinator.

Harris has been one of three defensive holdouts, but most of the attention has gone to middle linebacker Mike Singletary and strong safety Todd Bell.

“Big Al’s a good linebacker and he’s a good leader,” Ryan says. “He was the most underrated linebacker in the league last year.”

Harris’ speed and size (6-5, 253 pounds) make him uncommonly effective at covering tight ends, his main job in the Bears’ “46″ defense. Ryan had penciled him in for that role this season, which would have kept him on the field more than half the time, even with Wilber Marshall beating him out at right linebacker.

“You can’t replace people like him,” Ryan says. “You never have too many good players.”

Marshall’s presence has made Harris widely discussed trade bait. But other teams’ interest has been underwhelming, general manager Jerry Vainisi says, at least partly because other teams don’t want to pay him more than the Bears are offering.

San Diego rejected an offer of Harris for 1984 first-round cornerback Mossy Cade, whom the Chargers haven’t been able to sign. Miami turned down an offer of Harris for a first-round 1986 choice.

Even mildly interested teams consider Harris a defensive end. It took the Bears five years to learn Harris didn’t have the aggressive nature to play end.

At linebacker, Ryan says Harris became one of the defense’s four leaders. He said the others were Singletary, safety Gary Fencik and tackle Dan Hampton. “The rest of them are just players,” he says.

While contract disputes have kept Harris and Singletary away, injuries have kept Fencik and Hampton out of nearly every practice.