Lovie Smith was hired as the coach of the Chicago Bears before the 2004 season, and he did not waste any time in trying to draft the right players to suit his style of defense.
With middle linebacker Brian Urlacher and safety Mike Brown already in place; Smith still needed a quick, strong, three technique defensive tackle to complete the three most important positions of his Tampa 2 defense.
Passing on defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, the Bears selected another defensive tackle from Oklahoma, Tommie Harris, with the 14th overall pick. Leaving college after three years, Harris was a three year starter in school and won the Lombardi Award his junior season, an award given out to the nation’s best lineman.
Making an immediate impact on the Bears as rookie; after starting all 16 games and compiling 3.5 sacks, Harris would finish the season second in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting, losing out to New York Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma.
2005 would be another productive season for Harris, again starting all 16 games. He would help the Bears reach the playoffs and earn his first of three straight Pro Bowl honors. The beginning of the 2006 season would start with a bang for Harris and the Bears. After four games, Harris was leading the league with five sacks. He would continue his dominate play until sustaining a knee injury in week 13 that would cause him to be placed on injured reserve. He would be sorely missed; a noticeable drop in defensive statistics after Harris’ injury, he would also be forced to miss the Bears lone Super Bowl in 20 years.
Coming back strong from injury, Harris would have a career high with eight sacks in 2007 while playing in all 16 games. 2008 and 2009 were very productive seasons for Harris, but because of the standard he had set for himself, some expected more. Battling through knee and hamstring ailments, Harris still played in 29 out of 32 games. He signed a four year, $40 million contract extension in 2008, at the time making him the highest paid defensive tackle in the league.
Looking to find a compliment to Harris on the defensive line, the Bears would select another defensive tackle in the second round (#47 overall); from the University of Washington, Terry ‘Tank’ Johnson. An impressive 4.69 second 40 yard dash time at the NFL combine greatly increased Johnson’s draft stock. Playing in all 16 games as a rookie, but with only one start, Johnson would come on strong in his sophomore year. Again playing in all 16 games, this time starting four, he would record five sacks on the season, his career high. 2006 would see Johnson start 10 games and step up nicely at the end of the season with Harris sidelined with injury.
Though he was productive on the field, Tank’s off the field problems ultimately ended his time in Chicago. Arrested three times since joining the Bears, his third arrest for felony gun charges was too much for the Bears to deal with. He was cut after the 2006 season and picked up by the Dallas Cowboys. After an eight game suspension by the league for the aforementioned gun charges, Harris played in eight games for the Cowboys in ’07, recording two sacks. He would play one more year in Dallas before being cut and is presently on the Cincinnati Bengals.
Trying to address another need, this time on the offensive side of the ball, the Bears chose wide receiver Bernard Berrian with the 78th overall pick. The speedy receiver from Fresno State would only start three games in his first two years as a Bear before having a break out year in 2006; starting 14 games and scoring six touchdowns. In a contract year, ’07 would be another step forward for Berrian. His 71 catches for 951 yards were both career highs, thus making his market value high. With teams making high end offers to Berrian, the Bears decided to let him walk. Signing with the Minnesota Vikings for $42 million in 2008, Berrian has yet to reach the 1,000 yard plateau in a single season in his career.
With two picks in the fourth round, the Bears would look back to defense. Picks 110 and 112 were used on cornerback Nathan Vasher and linebacker Leon Joe, respectively. Vasher, known as ‘The Interceptor’ or ‘ESPN3’ due to his ball hawking/exciting plays, was thought to be a very valuable late round pick. He left the University of Texas as their all time leader in interceptions with 17. He also earned All American honors as a punt returner in 2001. His promising professional career would begin with a five interception rookie season. He would add to that in his second year, registering eight interceptions and a Pro Bowl berth. He would also add his name to the NFL record books that year with a 108 yard missed field goal return for a touchdown. At the time, it was the longest touchdown of any kind. There was a slight drop off in production in 2006 due to a hamstring injury, however his three interceptions and 45 combined tackles would help the Bears to one of the best defensive teams in the NFL.
A groin injury in 2007 would sideline Vasher for 12 games; and a wrist injury in 2008 would limit him to only eight games. After returning from his various ailments, Vasher seemed like a different player. He would only start two games this past season and even saw playing time out of his natural cornerback position at safety.
Joe only started one game as a Chicago Bear, which came in 2005. After not seeing much playing time as a rookie, Joe would play his second pro season with the Arizona Cardinals. After failing to make an impression in Arizona, he would return to the Bears for the 2005 season and play in 14 games. After this final year in Chicago, Joe would catch on with the Buffalo Bills for the 2007 season, his last in the NFL.
With back to back picks in the fifth round, the Bears would choose defensive end from Pittsburgh, Claude Harriott (#147) and quarterback from Ohio State University Craig Krenzel (#148).
Harriott would not make the Bears roster, being released after final cuts. He would try out with the New York Giants, but would be cut again before the 2005 season began. In 2006, Harriott would sign on with the Detroit Lions and be allocated to the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europa. Upon his return to Detroit, he would attend training camp before being cut yet again. After two more failed attempts at NFL rosters, Harriott is currently the starting defensive end for the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts.
Krenzel left Ohio State after a very productive college career both on the football field and in the classroom. Coming off of a National Championship in 2003, Krenzel would not see NFL game time action until Week 8 of his rookie season; where he would make his first start against the very quarterback he beat in the ‘03 National Championship game, Ken Dorsey. Krenzel would win his first start, as well as his next two, before losing two straight and being lost for the rest of the season with an ankle injury. He was cut by the Bears before the 2005 season. The Cincinnati Bengals would pick him up before the season and keep him on their roster as the third string quarterback. He was released in May 2006 after sustaining an elbow injury that required Tommy John Surgery, a surgical procedure in which a ligament in the medial elbow is replaced with a tendon from elsewhere in the body.
Yet to use his hard earned degree in molecular genetics, Krenzel is currently an announcer for Ohio State football.
With no picks in the sixth round, the seventh round and last selection made by the Bears in the 2004 draft was used on corner back Alfonso Marshall from the University of Miami. After starting his rookie season on the NFL’s physically unable to perform list, Marshall would still play in seven games as a rookie. Unfortunately, that would be the extent of his NFL playing career. He was cut by the Bears in 2005 and failed to make the roster of any other NFL teams.
The first four players chosen by the Bears in the 2004 draft remain in the NFL today, Harris and Vasher still with the Bears. The last four players selected by the Bears in the 2004 draft are out of the NFL after having rocky NFL careers.
New coach Lovie Smith definitely left his mark on the Bears ’04 draft. Besides Tommie Harris, I wish the players he selected did the same.