Tillman Forcing People to Take Notice...........
Tillman forcing people to take notice
Bears cornerback gaining recognition with shutdown performances
By Vaughn McClure, Chicago Tribune reporter November 18, 2011
If there was an NFL award for most underappreciated player, his Bears teammates would be unanimously in favor of Charles Tillman.
Tillman, now in his ninth season, has yet to play in a Pro Bowl. The last time the veteran cornerback was recognized league-wide was in 2005, when he was named the NFC's defensive player of the week.
Seems like a shame for a guy with 28 career interceptions, 26 career forced fumbles and a franchise-record tying four career interception returns for scores.
"Never has gotten the recognition he deserves,'' linebacker Brian Urlacher said.
Lance Briggs echoed those sentiments.
"I think Peanut (Tillman) is playing at an All-Pro level,'' Briggs said. "I think Peanut should have been in the Pro Bowl years ago.''
Maybe this will be the year, if folks can look beyond his role in the zone, Cover-2 scheme. Tillman currently stands fifth among NFC cornerbacks in the fan voting with 70,496 votes, although the fan vote only accounts for a third of the final tally.
"It would be nice to go,'' Tillman said. "But I think I'll get there when the time is right. If I continue to keep grinding, it will happen.''
Tillman deserves plenty of votes based solely on his effort Sunday against Calvin Johnson. Tillman deflected at least three passes intended for the Lions receiver and held Johnson in check throughout.
When Johnson dove for ball in the end zone, Tillman extended right next to him. When Johnson attempted to leap high for a score, Tillman jumped in unison. It was like synchronized swimming, except Tillman was able to drown Johnson.
"Was it the best job I've done covering a guy? I don't know,'' Tillman said. "I would have to look back. This one stands out in people's minds a little bit more because of who it was.''
The 30-year-old Tillman picked the perfect time to dust off his lockdown defender skills. One player estimated the Bears have used man-to-man coverage about 50 percent of the time since inserting Chris Conte and Major Wright as the starting safeties as opposed to a third of the time during the first five games. The Bears have 12 of their 20 takeaways in the last three games.
"We definitely have more speed with Conte and Major,'' Tillman said. "Could that have something to do with (playing man)? I don't know.''
Whatever the case, Tillman had found himself on an island and responded to the challenge. Two games back in Philadelphia, he stifled Jeremy Maclin on the Eagles' opening possession, setting the tone for remainder of the game. While blanketing Johnson last week, he managed to intercept a pass and take it back 44 yards for a score.
"Peanut matches up against anybody and can play man (or) zone,'' Urlacher said. "He's in his 30s but turn the film on, take the number off his back and you don't know how old the guy is.''
Tillman needs to continue his youthful resurgence Sunday when he squares off with 6-foot-5, 230-pound Vincent Jackson, the Chargers' top receiver.
"He's an awesome route runner,'' Tillman said of Jackson. "I don't think he's faster than Calvin, but I think he's quicker than Calvin. He gets out of his routes a lot quicker. He's a guy who can go up and get the jump ball, another elite receiver.''
The respect is mutual.
"He's a great player,'' Jackson said of Tillman. "He hustles. He plays the ball well. He looks like he's very comfortable out there.''
Maybe Tillman's not so underappreciated after all.
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