JENSEN: Tillman making an elite place for himself in NFL history
BY SEAN JENSEN firstname.lastname@example.org
DEFENSIVE BACKS: A After being named the Player of the Month for October, Charles Tillman was even better Sunday, with 4 forced fumbles to spark the rout. Chris Conte had 3 pass breakups and a fumble recovery.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Bears coach Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli preach to defensive players not to set limits, always strive to force a turnover and score.
But amid the elation in the visitors’ locker room at LP Field on Sunday, Bears players marveled at the play of one teammate in particular: Charles Tillman.
The Bears veteran cornerback forced an astounding four fumbles against the Tennessee Titans, giving him a league-high seven for the season.
Julius Peppers: “It’s impressive, man. Never seen anything like it before… It’s one of the best seasons I’ve ever seen.”
Brandon Marshall: “It’s special to watch… I can’t really explain it.”
Bears seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs said Tillman should be the NFL’s Defensive MVP.
“I think we are all seeing history being made,” he said.
But that’s the thing about Tillman: where does he fit historically?
He’s clearly the best cornerback in team history, but he’s never mentioned among the elite at his position. Look no further than the Pro Bowl, which he’s appeared just once after his standout 2011 season.
Champ Bailey of the Denver Broncos, Darrelle Revis of the New York Jets, Charles Woodson of the Green Bay Packers and Nnamdi Asomugha of the Philadelphia Eagles are often named the cream of the cornerback crop.
Tillman is often knocked for being a “cover-2” corner, a role less reliant on one-on-one coverage and more emphatic on tackling and re-directing. And even in that category, Ronde Barber of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is considered No. 1.
Not that Tillman cares.
“I’m confident in my technique, my team, my talent,” Tillman said last week. “I think when it’s all said and done, you can put my stats with other corners in the league, and I think it’ll hold true.
“I can be in the same sentence.”
But one of the architects of the Bears scheme insisted that Tillman could thrive in any defense, although he’s ideally suited to play for Smith.
“[Tillman] isn’t a blazer, a 4.3 guy [in the 40-yard dash],” said Tony Dungy, who hired Smith in Tampa and helped the Indianapolis Colts beat the Bears in Super Bowl XLI. “He’s not the guy who looks fluid and all that. But he can come up and make tackles on third and one, strip the ball from people, and make plays down the field.
“To me, he’s the perfect corner.”
Woodson, an eight-time Pro Bowl selection and the Defensive Player of the Year in 2009, is regarded for his 55 interceptions and 11 return touchdowns. Bailey has a cornerback record with 11 Pro Bowl selections with his share of gaudy stats, and Barber is a skilled blitzer with 28 sacks.
But Tillman blows away other defensive backs – even linebackers – with his forced fumbles.
The statistic hasn’t been tracked forever. But since 2003, Tillman is second in the NFL with 36, passing Peppers and Dwight Freeney of the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.
“Most of mine come from the blind side of the quarterback,” Peppers said. “He does it while the guy is looking at him and trying to run him over. He does it in a different way so it makes it a little more impressive.”
Titans pass catchers were warned about Tillman yet apparently didn’t heed. On the first play from scrimmage, Tillman punched the ball away from receiver Kenny Britt at the end of a 23-yard catch.
“He can sure get the ball out,” Britt said. “That’s something we knew coming into the game and that’s something we should have had focus on when we were out there.”
One thing would clinch it for Tillman, according to Dungy.
“The only thing missing for Tillman,” Dungy said, “is the Super Bowl [ring].”
Tillman has a puncher’s chance.
HOW PEANUT MATCHES UP
A comparsion of Bears cornerback Charles Tillman with other notible corners of this era.
GAMES TACKLES SACKS PASS DEFENSE INT/ YARDS TDs FF
CHARLES TILLMAN 137 755 3.0 101 32/ 596 7 32
Charles Woodson 206 719 17.0 119 55/ 896 11 24
Ronde Barber 232 952 28.0 134 46/ 895 8 13
Darrelle Revis 79 294 1.0 98 19/ 364 3 3
Nnamdi Asomugha 145 373 2.0 66 15/ 79 1 2
Champ Bailey 201 730 3.0 134 50/446 4 7
Antoine Winfield 183 931 8.0 84 26/228 2 14
All stats heading into Sunday, Nov. 4