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Tillman on Bears not re-signing Urlacher: ‘It’s a cut-throat business’

CHICAGO IL- OCTOBER 22: Charles Tillman #33 Chicago Bears reacts after Bears recovered fumble against Detroit Lions third quarter October

CHICAGO, IL- OCTOBER 22: Charles Tillman #33 of the Chicago Bears reacts after the Bears recovered a fumble against the Detroit Lions in the third quarter on October 22, 2012 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

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Updated: April 24, 2013 11:27AM



As was clearly evident Tuesday at Halas Hall, neither cornerback Charles Tillman nor defensive end Julius Peppers is comfortable in the spotlight — on the field, off the field and especially behind a podium in a suit and tie giving an acceptance speech.

But the Bears stars might want to get used to being the focus of attention. It’s a new world at Halas Hall.

With Brian Urlacher around, Tillman and Peppers were complementary leaders on the Bears’ defense — Pro Bowl players who could lead mostly by example. Urlacher was the ‘‘face of the franchise’’ in public and the unquestioned leader of the team in the locker room.

But with Urlacher all but certainly gone after not being re-signed in free agency, the core of the Bears’ defense has a void to fill.

‘‘I wish he was here,’’ Tillman said after accepting his third Brian Piccolo Award on Tuesday at Halas Hall. ‘‘But it’s a cutthroat business. You saw Peyton Manning got cut. We didn’t re-sign Brian. No one is safe on a team forever. I don’t care how many Piccolo Awards you win.’’

So who fills the void? Lance Briggs, a seven-time Pro Bowl player at weak-side linebacker, is the next man up. Henry Melton, a first-time Pro Bowl player at defensive tackle last season, has the personality for it, but he has some growing up to do.

As a rookie last year, defensive end Shea McClellin said his job was to ‘‘just keep my mouth shut and do what they say — and that’s what I did.’’ He’s not going to break out of his shell overnight, if ever. Safety Chris Conte has leadership qualities but needs to take the next step on the field to be a player teammates look to.

Defensive lineman Israel Idonije, a quiet but effective leader on and off the field, is in a holding pattern — unsigned but still a possibility. That leaves Tillman and Peppers as likely candidates to step to the fore.

‘‘I think the leadership, that’s the foundation,’’ said Tillman, who is beginning his 11th season with the Bears. ‘‘Myself, Pep, Lance — and I’m speaking defensively now — I think we’re . . . the cornerstones to try to get this defense to outdo what we did last year.’’

In accepting his Piccolo Award, Tillman thanked not only position coach Jon Hoke, but former defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and former coach Lovie Smith for ‘‘pushing me to my maximum capacity.’’ On a team so clearly identified by its defense, the absence of Marinelli and Smith also emphasizes the leadership void. For now, it’s the players who will lead the way.

‘‘So far, it’s been going good,’’ Tillman said. ‘‘For sure, it’s different. But it’s still going good, though. No quarrels. No bad blood. It’s business. It’s a cutthroat business. But that’s just how it goes.’’

Peppers, who made his eighth Pro Bowl last season at 32, is the most accomplished and respected player on the defense. But he’s counting on the team to fill the leadership void.

‘‘It’s always important [for leaders to emerge in a transition],’’ Peppers said. ‘‘We never want to place that responsibility on one person or just a few guys. We like to spread it out so a lot of guys can help because we need everybody to be leaders.’’



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