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Charles Tillman thinks Bears’ defense can top last season

Brian Urlacher (54) has retired but cornerback Charles Tillman (left) says veteran linebackers D.J. Williams James Andershave made smooth transitions

Brian Urlacher (54) has retired, but cornerback Charles Tillman (left) says veteran linebackers D.J. Williams and James Anderson have made smooth transitions to the Bears’ defense. | Sun-Times Library

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BY THE NUMBERS

The Bears’ defense in 2012:

Category NFL rank Stat

Total Points Allowed 3rd 277

Opp. Yards Per Game 5th 315.6

Opp. Passer Rating 2nd 71.3

Takeaways 1st 44

Interceptions 1st 24

Defensive TDs 1st 9

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Updated: July 19, 2013 10:31PM



The Bears’ defense defied belief in 2012. It seemed to pull off the unexpected so often — forcing turnover after turnover — that it almost became commonplace.

You expected another interception by Tim Jennings.

You expected another forced fumble by Charles Tillman.

You felt a big play by Lance Briggs was coming.

The defense was as special as ever under Lovie Smith last season. Everything it preached and talked about seemingly happened. It forced 44 takeaways and came up with 24 interceptions, the best marks in the NFL. It scored nine touchdowns. It ranked third in points allowed, fifth in yards allowed per game, eighth in sacks and second in opponent passer rating.

It was astounding.

But Tillman, one of the defense’s leaders, has a message: Move on.

“We had a great season defensively,” Tillman said. “But that was last year. We have to focus on this year. We really can’t worry about what happened last year. We’ve got to let last year go. That’s in the past. We’ve got to focus on what we can do now.”

‘‘Now” is full of question marks. Smith is gone, and so is defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and a bunch of other coaches. Linebacker Brian Urlacher has retired, longtime defensive lineman Israel Idonije is in Detroit and veteran linebacker Nick Roach, now with the Raiders, will be missed.

Struggles might be looming even though new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker has kept the language and the basic scheme.

Instead, Tillman talks about getting even better despite all the changes.

“No question, I definitely think we can be better,” Tillman said. “One of those things that I’ve learned is that you have to have a career year every year. You have to create a new identity for yourself every year.”

The new identity will include more contributions from defensive ends Shea McClellin and Corey Wootton, more reliance on defensive tackles Henry Melton and Stephen Paea and some changes by Tucker, i.e. blitzes.

It’s the changes at linebacker that stand out with Urlacher’s departure hanging over the defense. Tillman said the integration of veterans D.J. Williams and James Anderson has gone better than he anticipated.

“D.J. and James, they’re smart players,” Tillman said. “I think by the two of those guys being vets, the transition has been way smoother than I expected. They picked it up quicker than I thought they would, and they have responded well to our locker room and to the team. I think those guys are going to fit in fairly well.

“D.J., I’m excited about him. I think he’s going to make some great plays [at middle linebacker]. ”

The offense — with the hiring of coach Marc Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer and the additions of left tackle Jermon Bushrod and tight end Martellus Bennett to help out quarterback Jay Cutler, wide receiver Brandon Marshall and running back Matt Forte — should alleviate some of the burden the defense felt in 2012.

But the Bears’ defense is still a very proud bunch.

“Your naysayers are going to say, ‘Oh, they’ve got a new coaching staff. Yeah, it’s same the defense, but they’ve got more [new] players,’ ” Tillman said. “So there’s a little bit of a spark, a little bit of a motivation in there.”



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