NFC North: Houshmandzadeh
It will be interesting to monitor the fallout of a surprise injury to Chicago cornerback Charles Tillman, who recently had back surgery and will miss at least the early portion of training camp. Here are reports from ESPN Chicago and the Chicago Tribune.
At this point, Tillman is expected to return in time for the Bears' regular-season opener against Sept. 13 at Green Bay. But back injuries are particularly difficult to predict, and Tillman's surgery comes at a time when the Bears had thinned their cornerback group to provide more help at safety.
Coach Lovie Smith's original idea was to move Corey Graham, who started nine games last season at cornerback, to safety in hopes he would win the starting job vacated by the departed Mike Brown. But without Tillman, the Bears have only one veteran cornerback remaining -- and Nate Vasher is himself returning from a wrist injury that limited him to eight games last season.
At some point in camp, the Bears are going to have to make a judgment call on Tillman's recovery. If Tillman is on track for a full and timely recovery, Graham can probably remain at safety. But if Tillman's back remains a question as the season grows closer, the Bears might have to abandon the experiment and return Graham to cornerback.
That would leave the Bears with second-year player Craig Steltz at safety and either Zack Bowman, D.J. Moore or Danieal Manning at nickel back. It's only fair to note the Bears' early-season schedule includes matchups against receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver of the Packers, Santonio Holmes of Pittsburgh, T.J. Houshmandzadeh of Seattle and Calvin Johnson of Detroit.
Regardless of the extent, it's an unexpected complication for a coaching staff that is hoping to revitalize its defense.