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 LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) -Tommie Harris had little to say as he walked off the field following Thursday's practice, other than that he's ready to play.
That doesn't necessarily meant the Chicago Bears will give the Pro Bowl defensive tackle a chance against the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday. Although he has been practicing and will be in uniform, his status for the third preseason game remains a question mark.
All Harris would say on Thursday was, ``I'm ready to play; it's up to these guys if they want to do it.''
And coach Lovie Smith added little.
``Will Tommie play? There's a chance of that,'' Smith said. ``We're not making any decision on that right now. We'll let you know later.''
A Pro Bowl pick the past two seasons, Harris has not played since a hamstring injury in early December that required surgery. While the Bears would like to see him in a game, they're willing to wait until the opener at San Diego.
``Everything we do is about San Diego, so we won't take any chances with him,'' Smith said.
The Bears got to the Super Bowl after Harris went down last season, but they realize their chances to return hinge largely on his health. So it's not surprising that they're taking a cautious approach, even if he says he's OK.
Harris was enjoying arguably his best season when he was injured in the third quarter against Minnesota on Dec. 3. The Bears beat the Vikings 23-13 to clinch the NFC North, but they lost a player who already had a career-high five sacks - tied for fifth in the NFL among defensive tackles - and was second on the team with seven quarterback hits.
It was the second major loss on defense for the Bears, who had already seen strong safety Mike Brown get a season-ending foot injury. With cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher missing time over the final month with injuries and defensive tackle Tank Johnson embroiled in legal troubles that would lead to two months in jail, a unit that had dominated suddenly was vulnerable. The defense's ranking fell from No. 1 to No. 5.
Now, it has a slightly altered look.
Johnson was waived in June after police in Arizona arrested him following a traffic stop. Darwin Walker is in his place, and Harris is trying to get ready for the season. It's not clear if his preparations will include playing time Saturday or in the preseason finale against Cleveland.
``He's been in there practicing with us and looking good,'' defensive end Adewale Ogunleye said. ``Whatever Coach wants to do with him, I'm all for it. We need him during the regular season.''
While Harris' status remains unclear, the offensive line figures to get a boost Saturday with John Tait making his first preseason appearance. The veteran left tackle missed games at Houston and Indianapolis while recovering from ankle surgery.
``I was looking forward to getting back in there,'' Tait said. ``My ankle's been feeling real good. Whenever you have surgery, especially if it's after the season, you want to take it slow and make sure everything's right. You don't want to get hurt now and jeopardize the beginning of the season.''
With the offensive line intact and the starters expected to play into the third quarter, maybe the running game will get going. The Bears have averaged just 2.4 yards per carry, and top running back Cedric Benson has 47 yards on 15 attempts.
``We just want to get him in the flow, get some carries, get him hit some, get the timing with the offensive line,'' offensive coordinator Ron Turner said.
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