CHICAGO -- For the essence of Richard Dent, rewind the videotape to last year's Chicago Bears game against the Los Angeles Rams.
Dent is soaring headfirst over a blocker, launching his body into the heart of running back Greg Bell for a 5-yard loss.
"You've got to set it up. You can't do it every time. It's all about timing," said Dent, explaining why he can't transform himself into a guided missile every play.
"There is nothing wrong with giving your body away because that is the way you have to play. The coach on the other side of the field respects you after a play like that.
"After you leave this game, what you want more than anything what I want more than anything is respect from my peers. That's what it is all about. I mean, from players, coaches, cousins and reporters. I want people to say that I was an S.O.B. out there. That's what you want to leave the field with."
There is more, much more to Richard Dent than flying tackles and crunching sacks.
The Bears' all-time sack leader and highest-paid defensive player is a fascinating study of far-ranging emotions.
* Dent's heightened anticipation of becoming a father. He and his wife of seven months, Leslie, are expecting their first child in January.
* The compassion Dent feels toward the homeless. He plans to start a foundation in the name of his late mother, Mary Dent, to raise money for a boarding house for the homeless on Chicago's South Side.
* The concern he has for his teammates, a few of whom may be jealous of his high ($1.2 million a year) salary.
* The continued resentment he feels toward the National Football League for attempting to implicate him for drug abuse two years ago.
* The appreciation he has for coach Mike Ditka's new-found, personalized approach with Bears players.
An eighth-year pro from Tennessee State, the 6-foot-5-inch, 265-pound Dent shares the team lead in sacks (five) with Trace Armstrong going into today's game against the Cardinals in Phoenix.
"Richard is in much better shape than he was a year ago and I think that has helped him," Ditka said.
"The whole key is for Richard to stay healthy. His attitude is
outstanding. He is contributing. Right now his mental set is outstanding."
Dent is proud of his team-record 87 career sacks, but he is not satisfied.
"To be the Bears' all-time leading sacker and the NFL's all-time leading sacker would mean something," he said. "That's where I want to be. Not being greedy, but you have to set your sights high like that. I feel I have plenty of years left. I prepare for them one at a time."
Defensive coordinator Vince Tobin has given Dent the freedom to line up at different places along the defensive line and at linebacker. Many of the top pass rushers in the league Green Bay's Tim Harris and the New York Giants' Lawrence Taylor have been extended that privilege in past years.
"When Vince first got here [in '86], we led the league in defense, but now you can add a dimension onto your defense to make it a little better," Dent said. "He didn't want to mess up his program and I can't knock that. I think that was something missing in my game and I think you can get a lot more football out of me by doing that."
Dent says he sees the entire Bears defense adapting better to Tobin's system, particularly when it comes to playing zone defense.
"In 1985, we couldn't play zone worth nothing," Dent said. "Buddy Ryan [former Bears defensive coordinator] was all about shooting [blitzing] and locking up with your man and going with him."
The best for this season is yet to come, Dent says. He is just recovering from an injured big toe suffered after being tackled from behind following an interception return against Seattle in the season opener.
"Right now, I am looking to build some consistency with myself," he said. "I am trying to regain the consistency that I had earlier in my career before my injury [broken leg in 1988] came about. I think that slowed me up quite a bit. But it has been a test for me to see how close I can get to those times.
"The last three weeks, after the opening game, I have been pretty much struggling. People probably don't know that, but I have not been able to work during the week to prepare myself properly.
"Last week was the first week I was really able to run. I was limping on the field, not being able to do pass-rushing drills. Last Wednesday [Oct. 17] was the first day I was able to do pass-rushing drills since the first week of the season."
Dent believes the excellent play of rotating tackles Steve McMichael, William Perry and Dan Hampton has helped Armstrong excel this season.
"I think William is working great at left tackle," Dent said. "I think he plays that left side better than he plays the right side. That's because he can see the quarterback and look him in the eye from that side.