Expectations high for Tillman, Bears secondary
By: Larry Mayer | Last Updated: 7/10/2012 8:32 AM
In the second of nine position previews in advance of training camp, coach Jon Hoke discusses Bears defensive backs with ChicagoBears.com senior writer Larry Mayer:
LM: How would you assess how Charles Tillman performed last season?
JH: “Charles had a very good year and was named to his first Pro Bowl, which was very exciting for him and also very well deserved. He’s been in the league for a long time and has played well for a long time. He probably doesn’t get the recognition he deserves because we have so many good players on defense like Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. But Charles has been here playing at a high level for a long time and he finally got his due. He made the Pro Bowl and I would expect him to continue to play at a high level.”
LM: How would you characterize the competition for the other cornerback position between Tim Jennings and Kelvin Hayden?
JH: “I would say that it’s Tim’s job and Kelvin’s got to beat him out, and Kelvin knows that. We always want competition. Everybody knows they’re competing, but right now it’s Tim’s position. Kelvin’s got to beat him out and he’ll be given every opportunity.”
LM: What are Tim’s strengths as a player?
JH: “Tim’s very instinctive. He’s tough and he fits well with what we do. We would like him to create a few more turnovers, and he’s worked extremely hard this offseason on that. He had quite a few interceptions in OTAs, but it’s just a starting point for him. He’s definitely focused on it.”
LM: When Tim came back strong in last year’s season finale after being demoted for one game, what did that tell you about him?
JH: “That he’s a pro. He knows that decisions are made and there was no reason to go hang his head. [He thought] ‘I’ve just got to go back out there and play and prove that I deserve to be there.’ Obviously he did that.”
LM: What does Kelvin bring to the table?
JH: “Kelvin is a good pro. You can tell he’s been in the league for a little while. He has a wonderful approach to the game of football; he constantly wants to learn. We’re very excited about him being a part of this team.”
LM: What have been your impressions of Jonathan Wilhite, another cornerback the Bears signed in free agency?
JH: “Jonathan’s done a wonderful job fitting in. He’s new to the system, but he has come in and learned it well. He has shown his athletic ability. We’re excited about Jonathan and what he adds to our team.”
LM: How would you assess how safety Chris Conte performed last year as a rookie and do you think he’s worthy of wearing No. 47? (Note: Hoke wore No. 47 in his lone season with the Bears in 1980.)
JH: I thought he had a solid rookie season. As far as wearing that number, that’s a tough number. Not very many people would know who had that number, so it’s nice of you to recognize. I very much appreciate it.”
LM: No problem. It’s the least I could do. Getting back to Conte, what were your impressions of how he fared in offseason workouts?
JH: “He was good in OTAs. I think he’s more comfortable in his role. He’s matured as a player and it shows. His athletic ability back there has shown up. His anticipation has shown up. You can tell he’s an instinctive player who’s also a very good athlete. We’re very excited about where Chris is right now.”
LM: How much will participating in the offseason program benefit Conte after the NFL lockout prevented players from working out at team facilities last year?
JH: “It’ll be huge. When he first learned the defense, we installed it from the ground floor up. But it was a much faster install. Now we’re able to go back and reinstall it two or three times. He’s able to pick up all the little details that maybe he didn’t have a year ago.”
LM: What have been your impressions of rookie safety Brandon Hardin?
JH: “I was encouraged with him. He’s got excellent size and good speed. He seems to be picking things up. He’s a little behind, but all rookies are a little bit. But we’re encouraged by what we’ve seen from him.”
LM: What are your expectations for safety Major Wright, who has struggled with injuries?
JH: “First of all, make it through the season without an injury because he did not have an injury history coming out of Florida. He also was solid in OTAs. His maturity level has shown up. He’s a young guy who understands that we have a lot of veterans on this team and he needs to perform at a high level.”
LM: How important is safety Craig Steltz to the Bears?
JH: “Craig is very valuable to our team. He plays a lot of roles. He can be a backup player, he can be a starter. He can back up at a couple positions. He’s going to be a four-phase special teams player. So he’s extremely valuable to our team.”
LM: What are your thoughts on nickel back D.J. Moore?
JH: “He’s also a very valuable player. He gets a lot of takeaways. He might lead the team the last two years with the number of takeaways he’s gotten. He was good in OTAs as well. He’s still constantly learning and we’re expecting big things from him.”
LM: What makes D.J. such a good fit at the nickel position?
JH: “He’s got very good athletic ability. He’s got quickness and he’s sudden in his movements. He’s instinctive. He has a good feel for routes. Not every corner can go inside and play nickel. It just doesn’t happen that way. But he has a very good understanding of the position, and his athletic ability in there is a plus too.”