Bears' Tillman up to old tricks
BOURBONNAIS – Bears receiver Eric Weems chuckled at the recent image of teammate Charles Tillman chasing him into the end zone to try to force a fumble.
Weems could afford to laugh about the play. He managed to hold on to the ball.
“It’s fun playing with him,” Weems said. “He keeps you on your toes. He won’t let you slip up, and when you think you’re getting away, he’s right on your tail.”
That’s true from the first practice of training camp to the last game of the season.
Tillman, 31, has proved to be one of the best pests in the NFL since he joined the Bears in 2003 as a second-round draft pick out of Louisiana-Lafayette. His 28 career forced fumbles are second in franchise history behind Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent (34), and he leads all defensive backs in forced fumbles since 2003.
If the first week of camp is any indication, expect another set of forced fumbles this season.
During the first practice at Olivet Nazarene University, Tillman surprised new teammate Brandon Marshall by punching the ball out of his hands after a reception. Tillman chased Weems about 20 yards down the sideline while trying to do the same thing a day later, and his teammates have followed his lead with several forced fumbles in camp.
“It sets the tempo for how we’ll be this season,” Tillman said. “If you’re not going to do it in practice, you won’t do it in a game. That’s one thing coach (Lovie) Smith and coach (Rod) Marinelli always preach: ‘Strip the ball, strip the ball, get a strip.’ ”
It’s a philosophy that Tillman has embraced since college.
At 6 feet, 2 inches and 198 pounds, Tillman has above-average size for a defensive back. But compared with several other Bears’ Pro Bowl players, Tillman is a lightweight. He weighs 32 pounds less than Marshall, 46 pounds less than Lance Briggs, 60 pounds less than Brian Urlacher and 89 pounds less than Julius Peppers.
What Tillman lacks in raw power, he makes up for with instincts and active hands.
“I know I don’t hit hard,” Tillman said. “I don’t have that crazy hitting power like Brian or Lance. I tried it. I’m not going to be the guy that hits you and the ball pops out like [the character Steve] Lattimer in ‘The Program.’ That’s not my style.
“I wish I could, but it just didn’t work out for me, so I figured I’d punch it out.”
Again and again and again.
In 2011, the Bears played in seven games that were decided by single digits. Close contests such as those often are decided by a turnover or a takeaway, and Tillman’s efforts in July could help the Bears' offensive players protect the ball come November and December.
“I think it helps them when they get in games,” Tillman said. “I don’t think they’ll go against another team like us that will go after the ball like we do.”
Bears running back Kahlil Bell said he appreciated Tillman’s peskiness.
“Your head’s always got to be on a swivel,” Bell said. “Sometimes (in games), guys are going to come in and try to tackle you and get the ball out. That’s something that as running backs, we need to focus on. He’s the best in the league at doing it.”
And when Tillman gets the football, his teammates get an earful.
“It’s been awhile since he’s got me,” Bell said with a smile, “but yeah, he’ll tell you, ‘I almost got it out that time!’ He’ll say something. He’ll let you know.”
If you have any technical difficulties, either with your username and password or with the payment options, please contact us by e-mail at email@example.com