Chris Harris' reputation as a hard-hitting, physical safety has never been questioned.
Not in his first tour of duty with the Bears (2005-06), the next three years with the Carolina Panthers or in his return this season to the Bears.
But Harris has never been known as a ballhawk, the kind of guy who was a threat to pick off a lot of passes.
Harris always has been able to blow up a receiver or runner with a big hit, but he has become the kind of player who also can make plays on the ball.
Harris' interception in the final minute Sunday against the New York Jets, which clinched the Bears' 38-34 victory, was his fifth of the season, tops on the team and a personal best.
He also had game highs of 11 tackles and 10 solos and recovered a fumble. Led by Harris, the Bears already have 20 interceptions, 7 more than they did all of last season.
Harris has had plenty of highlight-film hits since the Bears drafted him in the sixth round in 2005 out of Louisiana-Monroe. But in five previous seasons, he had 10 interceptions and never more than 3 in a season.
Former Pro Bowl cornerback Gill Byrd, the Bears' assistant defensive backs/safeties coach, has helped convince Harris that a takeaway can be even more valuable than a knockout hit.
"We would always have these debates, especially when I was here my first couple years," Harris said. "Back then he would say, 'So, which would you rather take, a hard hit or an (interception)?'"
Back then, that was a no-brainer for Harris.
"I (would say), 'A hard hit, of course,'" he said. "(But) now, I'm kind of feeling myself change. He's kind of gotten me out of that frame of thinking.
"It's all about the ball. That's kind of our motto in the secondary room. Ball first, and then the hit. If you see you can't get the pick, then you lay a hit on the receiver.
"That's going for our whole secondary. (Defensive coordinator) Rod Marinelli constantly preaches when the ball's in the air, once it's out of the quarterback's hand, it's a free ball, so go get it."
But don't let the ball or the receiver get behind you. That's the other side of the equation. Especially in the Bears' Cover-2 scheme, keeping everything in front of the safeties is key.
"The life of a safety's tough," Harris said. "I don't think people realize how tough it is. If you play on the defensive line, a mistake you make gets covered up by a linebacker. If you play linebacker, mistakes you make get covered up by the secondary.
"If you're a safety or a corner, the mistakes you make get covered up by the end zone."
The Bears' secondary hasn't had to pass the buck on its mistakes very often this season. Opponents have scored just 13 touchdowns through the air this season against the Bears, while Jay Cutler has tossed 23 TD passes.
Even when the worst occurs -- the New England Patriots game comes to mind -- Harris said it's best for players at his position to have selective amnesia.
"You have to be able to put plays behind you," he said. "Bad things do happen; guys are human, and they're going to make mistakes. The other team gets paid to make plays, so they're going to make plays.
"You have to have a short memory to be a defensive back in the NFL because if you don't, one play can have a snowball effect. It's a tough job to do in the NFL, but somebody's got to do it, right?"
Harris and the Bears' secondary have been doing it right this season.
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