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Bears’ Chris Harris says risk of injury puts damper on player-led workouts

Saints fullback Heath Evans (right) works out with teammates during player-only drills organized by quarterback Drew Brees Tulane. | Brett

Saints fullback Heath Evans (right) works out with teammates during player-only drills organized by quarterback Drew Brees at Tulane. | Brett Duke~AP

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Updated: June 22, 2011 7:21PM

Drew Brees is paying thousands of dollars of his own money for him and 36 of his teammates to work out at Tulane and use the university’s training staff. The New Orleans Saints quarterback is helping younger players pay for lodging and is even supplying protein shakes and sports drinks for post-practice ­refueling.

Does this mean the Saints will have an edge over teams planning less-comprehensive workouts during the ongoing NFL lockout? Not necessarily, say Bears players weighing the benefits of practicing as a team and the risks involved with doing so.

“Being the competitors we are, we’re going to compete,” said safety Chris Harris, who attended a charity event hosted by ex-Bear Jerry Azumah on Wednesday night. “You are in 7-on-7 or 1-on-1, and one bad move and you can hurt yourself. Teams don’t have an obligation to keep you. They can let you go because you did that on your own.

“You’re not protected doing these organized things. You could end up at a local emergency room paying out of your own pocket to get fixed up.”

The lockout has turned this offseason so on its ear that practicing football is considered a non-football-related activity. Therefore, teams aren’t obligated to honor the contracts of players injured working out on their own.

With no professional training staffs standing by, if an injury were to occur, not only would the injured player have to seek medical treatment on his own, but he could be out of a job.

Some NFL teams are holding player-led workouts during the labor impasse and some aren’t. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has told the Sun-Times he is talking to his receivers and running backs about staging a passing camp. Linemen and defensive players have no such plans.

Participating in player-led workouts has become such a complicated debate that many agents refuse to share the advice they are giving their clients this offseason.

“This is a real touchy issue,” said an agent who would only speak on the condition of anonymity. “It really comes down to how aggressive the team leader wants to be. We’re not going to tell somebody who plays for the Colts to tell Peyton Manning to shove it even if we think the risk involved with group workouts outweighs the rewards.”

The risks are even greater for free agents who are unlikely to be signed if they suffer a significant injury.

“For a guy like me, there is absolutely no reward for going to work out because I don’t know where I’m going to be,” said backup running back Garrett Wolfe, who also attended the charity event. “If I knew I was going to be back with the Bears, it would be a great reward because I’m working with my teammates and we’re becoming better as an offense. But I don’t have the slightest idea whether I’m going to be back with Chicago or whether I’m going to be with some other team. If you’re not under contract, it’s all risk.”

The risk of injury is why most agents prefer players work with personal trainers to stay in top physical condition while eliminating the possibility of suffering an injury in organized player activities.

“You’ve got to be smart about it,” said free-agent defensive tackle Anthony Adams. “Go hard but not so hard you hurt yourself.”

How much players will benefit from the team-wide workouts is debatable. While Brees is trying to mirror his team’s offseason conditioning program, a recent workout organized by San Francisco 49ers players consisted of little more than participants doing random exercises while standing next to one another.

Most agree that while offensive skill position players can benefit from workouts that don’t involve coaches, playing “touch” football is less valuable for offensive linemen and defensive players.

“I’m fine in Charlotte working out by myself,” Harris said. “I’m getting the same work there that I would be getting here with my teammates. Maybe some of the offensive guys will work out. It will benefit them more because they can run and throw the ball and get timing and stuff down with routes, but on defense there’s not a whole lot we can do collectively other than talk, catch up, run and lift weights together.

“We have somewhat of an advantage because our coaching staff is intact, especially defensively. Everybody has been there for a while. The system hasn’t changed in eight years. There’s not much you can tell me about how to drop in cover-2. There’s only one way to do it. I don’t think we’re going to be far behind when things pick up.”

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