While a lot of attention was paid to the safety and defensive line positions in the offseason, the Chicago Bears made sure to address the cornerback spot as well.
In addition to re-signing Tim Jennings to a lucrative new deal, the team spent their first round draft pick on Kyle Fuller, who will be expected to compete for the nickel corner position with Kelvin Hayden and also can pitch in at safety should the need arise during the campaign. Perhaps just as important as those moves was the decision by the team to retain the services of Charles Tillman, who has played his entire career for the Bears.
Last season was a rough one for Tillman, as he was only able to play in eight games before a torn triceps muscle ended his season. Before the injury, Tillman was able to make his usual impact in terms of causing turnovers on defense, snaring three interceptions (including two in the team’s Week 1 win over the Cincinnati Bengals at Soldier Field) and forcing three fumbles. Once Tillman went down however, the team’s play in the secondary noticeably diminished, with Zack Bowman struggling to fill the void and safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright failing to contribute much over the top.
This season though, Tillman enters camp completely healthy and with some unfinished business to attend to. He will be looked to not only to force turnovers and be arguably the team’s top coverage guy, but he will also need to help mentor Fuller in the finer points of playing the position in the NFL. Fuller is looked at as Tillman’s ultimate replacement at the spot, and even though he was a guy that the Bears feel incredibly confident in after drafting him in the first round, he will still benefit from the veteran’s influence.
When considered together, these expectations are a lot to heap on any player, but if there’s a guy on the Bears’ defense that can handle that kind of pressure, it’s Tillman. With players like Brian Urlacher gone, Tillman has become the face of the defense, and even though his playing style more accurately depicts what former head coach Lovie Smith expected the team to do, he definitely fits into what Mel Tucker is trying to do with the squad as well.
Whether Tillman can succeed in staying on the field and helping to solidify things in a secondary that was savaged last season remains to be seen, but if his past performances are any indication, he should be up to the task.