Lovie Smith explained Thursday after a brief practice why the Bears released veteran safety Chris Harris. Here’s an unfiltered look at his comments.
Opening statement: “We’ll talk about Chris. Chris Harris helped us win a lot of football games around here. One of the guys.
“But, it is a business, and for us, it’s about production. We felt like we had some other options that we felt pretty good about, at the safety position. Had a chance to talk to Chris this morning.
“That’s never any fun, when you have to go a different direction again, from one of the guys who’s been around here for a while. But we did.
“We’re excited about the safeties we do have here. You don’t make a move like that, unless you feel good about it, and we do.”
On the locker room impact: “We have other professionals in the locker room, and I assume that all of our guys are like that. It’s about what you can do on the football field; we make decisions based on that. We don’t all of a sudden wake up one morning and just say, ‘Hey, we’re going to go this direction.’ It’s a pattern. And I feel good about the decision we had to make.”
On how Harris handled the news: “He handled it the way you’d expect him to. Chris Harris is a professional. So he handled it the right way. Disappointed, like you would assume all players would be. But he understood. Chris is a guy that has done a lot for us around here. He’ll always be a Chicago Bear, but we’re moving in a different direction now.”
On if Harris’ skills declined: “I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. But we base things on play, on the field. Chris played the first game. I know he had an injury there, that knocked him out of a couple of the games. But it’s the body of work. And just not one thing. Then it’s just a gut feeling, as a head football coach. It’s a gut feeling for me. I felt like we needed to go in a different direction. Again, I like our options we have here right now.”
On if special teams factored into it: “Chris has been around here for a while. We’ve seen Chris in every imaginable situation you could come up with: special teams, coming off the bench, being the starter. We took all those things into consideration. But it’s just time for us to move on right now. Chris doesn’t really play special teams, can’t really play special teams; we have better options there.
We’re trying to win a championship. The guys we’re keeping here, I feel like give us our best chance to do it.”
On what he has seen from Chris Conte and Major Wright to release Harris: “There’s not a simple answer for that. We feel like their play at the safety position and all the things we ask the safety to do, we feel like they can. Chris Conte we moved him into the starting lineup a couple of weeks ago, we’ve been very pleased with what we’ve gotten from him — as a tackler, just a guy in the middle of the field with a lot of range, we drafted him to some day be our safety. That time is now. The same thing with Major Wright. Major is a good tackler. He’s a good player. These aren’t veteran players, but they’ll get better each rep. We feel like we can play winning football with them. Brandon Meriweather, moving into the third safety slot also. Craig Steltz, Anthony Walters. We still have five safeties on our roster. No team has six safeties on their roster. This is the right thing to do and we’ll see how it turns out.
On how difficult it is to get continuity at the safety position: “It’s a tough position, but we feel like we’re headed in the right direction. We have young guys in our starting lineup that we like. We’ll see how they play. We feel pretty confident that they’ll play good football.”
On if he saw improved play at the safety position against the Vikings, when he started Wright and Conte: “We got better safety play that week, yes. But we played hard against Minnesota. We played harder against Tampa Bay. I talk about our arrow going up, we’re playing better each week. Whether the safety play improved or not, which it did. But other positions improved. Our ballclub improved, which is what you want to see.”
On if this decision today keeps everyone “on edge:” “I’m not really interested in keeping anybody on the edge. We’re trying to get good play. We evaluating what we’re doing on the football field. My evaluation of our guys on the field — played hard that game, played hard this past one. We’re going to play hard against Philadelphia. How’s that?”