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Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Tillman, Forte first-time Pro Bowlers

By Michael C. Wright

The Chicago Bears landed five players -- the most since the end of 2006 -- on the NFC Pro Bowl team on Tuesday, including three first timers in running back Matt Forte, cornerback Charles Tillman and special teams ace Corey Graham, along with linebackers Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher, who were named to the league's annual all-star game for the seventh, and eighth time, respectively.

The team's leading tackler (140 tackles), Briggs became the fourth linebacker in franchise history to receive seven consecutive Pro Bowl nods, and the team's ninth player to receive the honor seven times as a member of the organization.

Forte became the team's first running back to be named to the Pro Bowl since 1991 (Neal Anderson). Before sitting out the last three games because of a Grade 2 MCL sprain in his right knee, Forte led the NFL in yards from scrimmage (1,487), ranked third in the NFL in rushing yards (997) and fourth among running backs in receiving (490 yards). Forte churned out a career-high 4.9-yard rushing average before the team made the decision Tuesday to place the running back on the injured reserve along with quarterback Jay Cutler.

In the final year of his original rookie contract, Forte seeks a long-term deal with the organization, but will likely receive the franchise designation.

A ninth-year veteran, Tillman's Pro Bowl invitation seems overdue. Tillman became the first Bears cornerback to receive Pro Bowl recognition since Nathan Vasher (2005) after posting a career-high 107 tackles. Tillman also leads the team in pass breakups (11), is tied for the team lead in forced fumbles (3) and fumble recoveries (2). In addition, Tillman has intercepted two passes, returning one for a touchdown. The veteran cornerback leads all defensive backs with 27 forced fumbles since 2003, and his 29 interceptions tie him for ninth in the NFL overall over the last nine years.

Like Tillman, Graham was named to his first Pro Bowl. Graham generated buzz about possibly receiving the honor after a strong campaign on special teams in 2010. Graham leads the Bears with 20 special-teams tackles and ranks second since entering the NFL in 2007 with 74 stops on special teams. Graham contributes on five of the club's special-teams units, including punt and kick coverage, punt and kickoff returns and field-goal blocks). With Graham leading the way, the team's punt coverage unit allows just 5.4 yards per return, which ranks as No. 2 in the NFL.

Urlacher, meanwhile, became the sixth player in team history be be voted to eight Pro Bowls as a member of the organization. Urlacher ranks second on the team in tackles (125), and has tallied seven tackles for lost yardage. The linebacker is also tied for the team lead with three INTs, and has recovered two fumbles, returning one for a touchdown.

Interestingly, Briggs and Urlacher were the only linebackers from 4-3 schemes last year to be named to the Pro Bowl.

Bears defensive end Julius Peppers had been to three consecutive Pro Bowls (2008, 2009 and 2010) and six overall before missing the cut on the latest roster, despite leading the team with 10 sacks.

Return man Devin Hester -- a three-time Pro Bowler -- also wasn't named to the 2012 team. Hester returned two punt returns and a kickoff for touchdowns during an injury-mired 2011 campaign.