NFL Nation: Charles Tillman

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman called cornerback Kyle Fuller day-to-day after the NFL's reigning Defensive Rookie of the Month suffered a fractured right hand, and right hip pointer injury in Sunday's 27-14 loss to the Miami Dolphins.

Fuller
Fuller is not expected to need surgery on his broken hand, but he failed to finish the Dolphins' game because of the injured hip.

Fuller's status is unknown for the Week 8 trip to New England to face the 5-2 Patriots.

"Up to this point today, I've heard it [the broken hand] as being a non-surgical issue," Trestman said.

"He went out of the game because of his hip more than his hand, so we'll just see. He said he felt good today, but it'll be day to day. I don't know that the hand will deter him. I don't know that, I haven't talked to [the training staff] about it. But that's what I understand at this time."

The No. 14 overall selection of the 2014 NFL draft, Fuller replaced Charles Tillman (injured reserve) on the first team in Week 2, recording three interceptions and three forced fumbles in five starts.

Fuller's third-quarter exit on Sunday forced the Bears to play Sherrick McManis at cornerback opposite Tim Jennings, with Demontre Hurst lining up at nickelback.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Kyle Fuller stuffed a Chicago Bears bag full of gear as he rushed to join family outside the locker room following his team’s 27-19 win Monday night over the New York Jets.

Having picked off his third pass in two games in addition to forcing a pair of fumbles and contributing seven tackles, Fuller uttered clichés like “playing my technique, fundamentals” and “staying on my leverage” in describing how he gobbled up yet another takeaway. But the true credit for Fuller’s team-high third interception goes to Tim Jennings.

“I think he had a lot to do with it,” Fuller explained. “They were looking to [go at] him first, then they looked at my side. Everybody on the field had something to do with that. It was a good play for our defense.”

With 5:10 left in the third quarter and Chicago holding a 24-13 lead, the Jets had first down at the Chicago 18-yard line. Quarterback Geno Smith dropped back while looking to his right toward Jeremy Kerley, who had attempted to fool Jennings on a double move.

“Tim played it perfect,” veteran cornerback Charles Tillman later said. In fact, it looked as if Jennings actually ran Kerley’s route for him.

With Jennings sitting on Kerley’s route, Smith was forced to scan the field to the other side, where David Nelson also ran a double move with Fuller handling the coverage. As Smith drifted to the right, the pass rush broke free with Jared Allen and Stephen Paea closing in quickly for a potential sack.

Rather than take the loss, Smith lobbed the ball up for grabs. Fuller cut in front of Nelson to intercept the errant throw in the end zone.

“Kyle’s football instincts kicked in and he made a great play,” Tillman explained. “Tim made the play first because he sat on the route. Tim ran the route the same way the receiver did. It’s such a team sport that the majority of the time, when you think you’ve made a play, it’s because someone else did something. I’ve gotten many picks that wouldn’t have happened had I not had the pass rush or someone in the quarterback’s face to disrupt the ball.”

One locker over, Jennings nodded his head in agreement about how the pass rush and other complementary factors came together for the majority of his positive plays. But Jennings refused to take any credit for Fuller’s interception.

“That was a great play for Kyle. He’s got great ball skills,” Jennings said. “Geno Smith scrambled around and gave Kyle a shot, and Kyle came down with it, bro.”

Fuller certainly placed himself in ideal position to do so in the meeting rooms before ever stepping foot on the field, according to Tillman and Jennings. Jennings said Fuller “is ahead of the game” in terms of his development and “mature for his age,” while Tillman compliments the rookie’s humility and the fact that “he’s eager to learn” and “wants to be better.”

Fuller’s interception and 12-yard return with a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness tacked on gave Chicago possession at its own 20 with 4:57 remaining in the third quarter. The play was one reason the Jets were limited to a pair of field goals in the second half.

“They tried to give me a double move,” Fuller said. “He threw the ball up. I was able to see it, and go get it.”
Charles Tillman said “this isn’t the end of the road for me” in a statement released by the team on Monday after it announced he’d go on the season-ending injured reserve due to a ruptured triceps. The first thought to come to mind was it may not be the end, but in Chicago it’s essentially over.

That’s not the way to think regarding a player of Tillman’s ilk. But reality is reality.

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Tim Jennings signed a four-year extension back in January worth $22.4 million, and rookie Kyle Fuller received a four-year deal with a club option for a fifth year which pays $9.687 million, including a signing bonus of $5.365 million.

Tillman, meanwhile, was playing on a one-year contract worth $3.25 million, and he signed that late after free agency proved fruitless.

Moving forward, the Bears can't afford to pay starter's money to three corners, especially with Jay Cutler's monstrous salary and potential extensions coming down the pipe for several players such as Brian de la Puente and Alshon Jeffery, just to name a couple.

Tillman certainly deserves to finish his career in Chicago. But with the corner set to turn 34 before the start of the 2015 season, it’s unlikely the Bears bring him back at a salary he wouldn’t find to be a slap in the face.

When Tillman hits free agency, he likely won’t be looking to break the bank. But he’ll definitely feel he’s worth more than a veteran minimum type of deal, which is probably what the Bears will offer given Tillman’s age, recent injury history, and the emergence of Fuller, who picked off a pair of passes Sunday in the club’s win at San Francisco. Besides that, if the Bears did decide to bring back Tillman for another season, would it be as a starter? Would he feel comfortable taking on the role as the nickel corner?

It’s sad to be pondering all this with emotions still raw, fewer than 24 hours after Tillman’s latest setback.

But that’s the reality we’re faced with; one in which special players such as Tillman always leave on someone else’s terms.

“He’s one of our leaders on this team, and much needed,” receiver Brandon Marshall said during his radio show Monday on ESPN 1000. “It’s sad for the city, it’s sad for our team, it’s sad for him.”

It truly is.

Tillman was correct in saying it’s not the end of the road, because it isn’t. Once Tillman rehabs from this injury, he’ll still be a player capable of starting and playing at a high level in the NFL.

But the problem is this team, even before Tillman’s injury, has already moved on. If Brian Urlacher and Devin Hester have taught us anything, it’s the fact the Bears -- like every other team in the NFL -- always moves on.

Allen: Bears better fix run D

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
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CHICAGO -- Determined to improve a unit that ranked dead last stopping the run (161.4 yards per game) and recorded only 31 sacks in 2013, the Chicago Bears spent a substantial amount of offseason money and used two high draft picks to help fix its defensive line.

At least through Week 1, the team has not seen a return on its investment.

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Houston
Allen
In a home defeat full of disappointments, perhaps the most upsetting development was the Bears' continued inability to stop the run. The Buffalo Bills rushed for 193 yards on 33 attempts (5.8 yards), including long gains of 38 and 47 yards respectively by tailbacks Fred Jackson and Anthony Dixon. On Bills' runs, Jackson and Dixon were virtually untouched before they reached the second and third levels of the Bears' defense.

Jackson's run essentially sealed the victory for the Bills in overtime.

"When you give up that many rushing yards, it's embarrassing. What can I say?" defensive end Jared Allen said. "It all starts with the run game. I know this league is about sacks and rushing the quarterback, but you do not win unless you stop the run. You don't get chances to rush the quarterback unless you stop the run.

"Obviously, we have to go back and watch the film and figure out where our run fits are, and play our fits. You got to make plays. We have to clean that up. If we stop the run today, it's a totally different game."

Fellow defensive end Lamarr Houston pointed to a lack of discipline.

"We didn't play disciplined football, not for all four quarters," Houston said. "We need to play disciplined football. We need to know our jobs and do our jobs. You play good run teams, you have to play disciplined football. You have to know your job and stay on your job. That's disciplined football."

Prized free agent pick-ups Allen and Houston combined for two tackles and zero quarterback hits, according to the official NFL stat book distributed in the press box. Overall, the Bears registered just one sack (Willie Young) and two quarterback hits (Young and Charles Tillman) on Bills starter E.J. Manuel, who passed the ball 22 times.

"Hopefully we'll look back on this and this will just be a game that we lost," Allen said. "You don't want to give home games away, but we'll fix some problems and move on. That's what you do. We've got a huge opponent coming up when we go play Sunday night football against San Francisco. We better darn well get this run thing figured out."

Bears Camp Report: Day 10

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Chicago Bears training camp:
  • While the Bears actively monitor the waiver wire and scan the list of available free-agent wide receivers in the aftermath of Marquess Wilson’s fractured clavicle, Tuesday’s practice allowed the team to try out several different receiver combinations. Minus Wilson and veteran Brandon Marshall (coaches' decision), the Bears trotted out a three-wide receiver set to begin 11-on-11 drills that featured Alshon Jeffery, Eric Weems and Chris Williams. Weems, a former Pro Bowl return man in Atlanta, figures to be a lock to make the team based on his familiarity with the offense and immense value on special teams, but the remaining roster spots are wide open. According to quarterback Jay Cutler: “Eric Weems has had a great camp, but so have a number of other guys. Right now it’s too early to peg anybody. We’ll just see how it plays out.” Cutler later added the Bears expect Wilson back on the field in 2014 after he underwent surgery on Tuesday morning. But with no timetable set for Wilson’s return, the Bears do need to find a reliable option in the slot to bridge the gap over the first couple weeks of the regular season, at the bare minimum.
  • Cornerback Isaiah Frey suffered a right hamstring injury at practice and had to be carted back to the locker room. The Bears’ 2013 starting nickelback, Frey is facing an uphill battle to make the team with veterans Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, Kelvin Hayden and Sherrick McManis, plus rookie first-round draft choice Kyle Fuller ahead of Frey on the depth chart. Frey told reporters he plans to vigorously attack the required rehabilitation program, but stressed the importance of resisting the urge to return too soon from a pulled hamstring injury, since those types of injuries tend to linger.
  • Starting right tackle Jordan Mills hurt his foot at the tail end of Tuesday’s practice. Mills stayed and watched the final drill before walking off the field under his own power. Mills suffered a foot injury during pregame warm-ups in last year’s regular-season finale versus the Green Bay Packers that required offseason surgery. The Bears did not reveal the severity of the injury, but Mills seemed to be in good spirits when he arrived at lunch later in the afternoon.
  • Adrian Wilson and Ryan Mundy again took first-team reps at safety.
  • Jennings (quadriceps) and guard Eben Britton (hamstring) were held out of practice, but linebacker Lance Briggs fully participated after a knee injury kept him off the field for final portion of Monday’s session. Defensive end Jared Allen was excused from another practice due to personal reasons, while running back Shaun Draughn went through an entire practice following a couple of personal days away from the team.
  • The Bears' next scheduled practice is Wednesday at 9 a.m. CT.

Bears Camp Report: Day 7

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
3:50
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Chicago Bears training camp:
  • The Bears cut practice 30 minutes short, and perhaps that spurred extra effort from the players on Friday as it was easily the club’s most spirited workout of training camp. The defense outplayed the offense by far, and at the end of a tight red zone drill, Bears coach Marc Trestman made sure to congratulate the unit for its strong performance. The defense fit well against the run, but on passing downs the front four pressured Jay Cutler on numerous occasions, forcing him to throw the ball away multiple times. “Today in the tight red zone, the defense amped it up,” Trestman said. “We had some contested throws, knockdowns, some real good plays defensively.”
  • Veteran defensive end Trevor Scott hasn’t received much publicity throughout camp, but he’s proven deserving over the first several days of camp. In addition to size and physicality, Scott showcases a plethora of pass-rushing moves on a day-to-day basis that could make him a contributor to the rotation up front. One staffer called Scott “the real deal so far” at camp. A seventh-year veteran, Scott played four years in Oakland before joining the New England Patriots and later Tampa Bay. He’s logged 16.5 sacks over six NFL seasons.
  • One good way to get an idea of how the 53-man roster will shake out is to pay attention to special teams as this is the facet of the game that often determines some of the final spots. The first-team kickoff return unit on Friday consisted of Danny McCray, Jonathan Bostic, Jordan Senn, Khaseem Greene, Brock Vereen, Tony Fiammetta, Scott, Matthew Mulligan, Dante Rosario, Josh Bellamy and Eric Weems.
  • Some of the stars from inside drills pitting offensive linemen against defensive linemen in one-on-one matchups included David Bass, Nate Collins, Will Sutton, and Ego Ferguson. Despite Sutton’s reputation as a finesse rusher, he bull-rushed Ryan Groy to get into the backfield. Ferguson, meanwhile, appears to possess plenty of strength, but enhances it by rushing with solid leverage.
  • Veteran linebacker Lance Briggs broke up two Cutler passes during team drills. Briggs’ second breakup resulted in a McCray interception. The INT represented the first all training camp by a safety working with the first-team defense.
  • The Bears held out Charles Tillman and Alshon Jeffery from practice with Trestman calling their inactivity a “coach’s decision.” Chris Conte (shoulder), Craig Steltz (groin) and Kyle Long remain out. Long will return to the practice field Saturday at Soldier Field. Center Roberto Garza was also excused from practice for personal reasons.
  • Chicago holds its annual Family Fest workout Saturday at 6:45 p.m. CT at Soldier Field.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- For all the changes made on the defensive side of the ball, the key to the unit’s overall success might hinge on the health of 12-year veteran linebacker Lance Briggs.

The linchpin of the defense, Briggs started strong in 2013, but ended up appearing in a career-low nine games because of a shoulder injury that kept him on the inactive list for two straight months.

 One of the best linebackers in franchise history, Briggs was voted to seven straight Pro Bowls from 2005-2011 where he developed the reputation as one of the hardest hitting linebackers in the league.

At 33-years old, can Briggs still elevate his game to a Pro Bowl level?

“I don’t know. I’ve lost a couple of steps,” Briggs said with a smile on Thursday. “Now sometimes I have to fall into a tackle. If I’m lucky, a tackle will fall, and I’ll put my hand on him and get credit for it. That’s where I’m at in [this] stage of my career.”

The Bears believe otherwise. The organization feels Briggs is the best striker on the defense and will look to the 12-year veteran to help lead a revamped unit that includes other proven older players such as Jared Allen, Charles Tillman, D.J. Williams, Tim Jennings and Jeremiah Ratliff.

“If [Lance] is playing at full-strength the way he started last season, we’re going to be a much better football team all around,” Bears head coach Marc Trestman said. “What he can do ripples through the entire team.”

Of course, there is the issue of Briggs’ expiring contract.

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 In the past, Briggs has gone public in expressing his displeasure with contract negotiations. He famously predicted he would never play another down for the Bears after the club slapped Briggs with the franchise tag in 2007. Briggs eventually signed a six-year extension in March, 2008 that the club later re-worked in 2012 to include another year and more guaranteed money.

However, Briggs said on Thursday he does not plan to make his contract a talking point this season.

“I’m not talking about a contract. I’m talking about playing football,” Briggs said. “I just want to play football. I’ve seen a lot of guys come and go. I’m here. I’m happy. I’m just appreciative.

“In a matter of one day, I learned that the coach that I’d been coached by for the last years was going to gone, and that whole staff was going to be gone. Everybody that I was used to everyday was going to be gone. The guy who I shared a room with for 10 years was going to be gone. A lot of the guys that I had built relationships with were gone. There’s some new guys coming in and filling up those numbers and those lockers. That’s life. That’s the way it is. It’s business.”

Briggs later reiterated that he wants to finish his career in Chicago.

“The only time I might not retire as a Bear was the time when I said I’d never put on a Bears’ uniform again,” Briggs said. “And I haven’t said that again since that time. So, of course [I want to retire as a Bear].

“I’m a Bear. I’m a true Bear. This is Year 12. I’ve given my blood, sweat and tears and my heart to the city and playing for this team. When it’s all said and done, I’ll retire a Bear.”

Bears Camp Report: Day 3

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
4:45
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Chicago Bears training camp:
  • Pop-pop-pop-pop, pop-pop-pop-pop. That’s what you hear every day after practice. The players resemble Kung-Fu fighters in football pads as they work hand-fighting drills with martial arts expert Joe Kim, who was brought on by the Bears as a consultant to work on skill development. Cornerback Charles Tillman took part in the drills one-on-one with Kim on Sunday and said afterward he’s expecting the hand-fighting drills to help him improve at jamming receivers and getting off blocks better.
  • While we’re on the subject of hand-fighting drills, Kim joined the team mostly to work with the defensive line, because under defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, the scheme is changing drastically this season. Last year, the Bears employed Lovie Smith’s system, which emphasized penetration along the defensive line. The players were used to simply shooting the gaps to stop the run on the way to the quarterback. That’s all changing in 2014. The coaching staff wants Chicago’s defensive linemen to be technicians with their hands so they can engage opposing offensive linemen, stack them at the line, shed, and run to the ball. In the previous scheme, Chicago’s defensive linemen simply didn’t know how to use their hands effectively. Many times when they penetrated, they overran the ball because more and more now, teams are employing zone schemes that allow backs to pick their holes instead of the old-school leads, counters, and powers. By becoming better at using their hands, the D-line can also keep opposing offensive linemen off the club’s rangy linebackers, which in turn allows them to run around and make plays. In fact, Tucker recently turned on film of Chicago’s defensive line during a meeting, and many of the players on the roster that were a part of last year’s team were shocked at how badly the group played. What Tucker pointed out, according to one player in that meeting, was that last year, the group didn’t know how to use its hands. The joke among defenders now is that if one of the team’s linebackers has scratches or paint from the opponent’s helmets on their own, the defensive line isn’t sufficiently doing its job to keep offensive linemen off the linebackers. The Bears are expecting higher tackle totals this year among the linebackers, and the defensive line will be largely responsible for that.
  • It’s no real secret, but a couple of players to watch on special teams are linebacker Jordan Senn and safety Danny McCray. The staff believes Senn is a better special teams player than former Bear Blake Costanzo. McCray, meanwhile, was the best player on special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis’ units with the Dallas Cowboys.
  • The workout Sunday marked the team’s first in full pads. Coming off a torn ACL in 2013, fifth-year veteran Nate Collins produced the best performance among the defensive linemen in one-on-one drills against the offensive linemen. “You watch the practice tape, he's running full speed all over the field and finishing,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said.
  • Rookie first-round pick Kyle Fuller continues to impress, and appeared to get the best of Pro Bowl receiver Alshon Jeffery during one-on-one drills. Jeffery caught an extremely limited number of passes in the drill against Fuller, and one of those completions likely would’ve resulted in offensive pass interference as the receiver slapped the defender in the head and pushed off to get open.
  • Cornerback Tim Jennings (quadriceps) returned to practice, but pulled himself out of action after the first play in one-on-one drills because the leg “didn’t feel right,” according to Trestman. He’s still day to day. Defensive end Willie Young (quadriceps) returned to practice, but receiver Terrence Toliver (toe) was held out of the workout along with safeties Craig Steltz (groin) and Chris Conte (shoulder). It’s believed the bulked-up Conte will return to practice in the next week or two after missing the entire offseason conditioning program and the early part of camp because of shoulder surgery. Even if Conte returns soon, he's not expected to play in the first preseason game.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears drafted Kyle Fuller at No. 14 overall because the organization believed Fuller had the ability to make an immediate impact on defense, even though two Pro Bowl cornerbacks were already on the roster.

[+] EnlargeKyle Fuller
Nam Y. Huh/AP PhotoRookie CB Kyle Fuller impressed coaches and teammates during Friday's training camp session.
It’s dangerous to get too high or too low on a player based on one training camp practice, but Fuller sure looked like an NFL-ready defensive back on Friday. Fuller stole the show on defense intercepting a pair of passes, including a spectacular diving pick on a Jordan Palmer throw during 11-on-11 that showcased the cornerback’s immense wingspan.

Fuller intercepted six balls and broke up 34 passes in 50 games at Virginia Tech. That propensity for getting a hand on the football in pass coverage was one of the traits that attracted the Bears to Fuller in the pre-draft process.

“It was a good start for Kyle,” Bears head coach Marc Trestman said. “That was a tremendous play he made in the first series of the day. The second one [interception] we had [the receiver run] the wrong route but he [Fuller] was in the right place and made the play. That’s a good thing. He was around the football. That’s a good start for him today.”

Fuller spent the entire offseason program working on the Bears’ first-team nickel unit at cornerback opposite Charles Tillman, with Tim Jennings generally bumping inside to cover the slot. That personal grouping did not change on Friday, raising expectations that Fuller will be asked to contribute immediately in the regular season, if he avoids injury in the preseason.

“I had a good start, but I definitely have a lot of work to do,” Fuller said. “I definitely enjoy coming out here and competing with guys like Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery every day. They are making me better.

“I just try and come out here every day and show the coaches what I can do. My goal is to just get better, and whatever happens, happens.”
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- The chances of Charles Tillman returning to Chicago for a 12th season seemed remote at the onset of free agency in March.

Tillman, an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his illustrious career, appeared destined to reunite with former Bears head coach Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay. But after making a free agent visit to the Buccaneers, Tillman went home without a deal, and ultimately re-signed with the Chicago Bears for one year at $3.25 million. Tillman earned just over $8 million in 2013.

[+] EnlargeCharles Tillman
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesCharles Tillman wasn't expecting to spend a 12th season in Chicago, but he's back with the Bears as training camp gets set to open.
On the eve of his 12th training camp with the Bears, Tillman admitted to still being somewhat surprised he remains with the Bears when reached during a promotional appearance Wednesday morning.

“At the end of the day this is a business,” Tillman said. “Despite all that I’ve done for Chicago, none of that matters, that doesn’t mean a thing. I’m just a [salary] cap number. I realize that. They realize that. It’s the game. It’s the world we live in. I’m very well aware of that. At the end of the day it was business. At the end of the day it’s always business. If I get hurt, if I go down, the show goes on. I’m replaced. When I retire, it’ll be somebody else and I’ll be long gone and forgotten. That’s just how this business and this league operates.

"So it was just all business at the end of the day. I didn’t take it personally. They didn’t take it personally. They were just trying to get the best guy at the cheapest amount. That’s just kind of how this business roles.”

Tillman was one of the many casualties on defense last season. The two-time Pro Bowl selection started just eight games (52.5 tackles, three interceptions and three forced fumbles) before suffering a season-ending triceps injury. Tillman watched as the Bears’ defense hit historic lows, ranking dead last in the league against the run.

But the offense thrived under first-year head coach Marc Trestman, finishing No. 2 in points scored and No. 5 in passing yards.

That resurgence on offense, coupled with key offseason defensive signings such as Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston, has Tillman convinced this could be his best shot to reach a Super Bowl since the 2006 team.

“Our offense did a really good job for us last year keeping us in games because what we were doing on defense wasn’t cutting it,” Tillman said. “The hard part about our offense is can they do it again? We claimed that title last year of being a very good offense. That was last year. This is this year now. Can you do it again? Nobody cares about last year. You can’t hang your hat on being one of the best offenses of 2013. If you do, it’s going to be a long season for us.

"Defensively, we can’t hang our heads on being the worst defense in the NFL last year. Right now we have to focus on and prepare to be one of the best defenses in the NFL in 2014. It’s a title you have to reclaim every year. From both a team standpoint and individual perspective. It’s all reset. The Seattle Seahawks were Super Bowl champions last year. Well, there’ll be a new one this year. Everybody is equal and everybody is even.

"I think Lamarr and Jared are going to help us out a lot. But how much better are we? I think we are better, but that’s just a thought. I think we have the best team on paper in the NFL right now; the hard part is going out there and proving that we are the best team. Right now, we are stacked. We have a lot of talent of defense. I think the Bears did a very good job in helping us out in areas that we were weak in last year. We just need to go out and execute like we are supposed to, and then we can call ourselves a better team.”

Tillman, a native of Texas, has spent the days leading up to training camp working in conjunction with Gatorade to educate younger football players and athletes on heat safety and the importance of hydration when participating in sports during the warm summer months.
IRVING, Texas -- Rod Marinelli likes what he saw from his Dallas Cowboys defense in the spring.

The defensive coordinator liked that he has more players along the defensive line. He likes the linebackers’ “movement skills.” He likes how cornerbacks Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne can play man-to-man. He likes the growth J.J. Wilcox made at safety opposite Barry Church.

[+] EnlargeBarry Church and Morris Claiborne
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsDallas defensive backs Barry Church and Morris Claiborne didn't have much to celebrate during 2013.
But there’s something else Marinelli likes about the group.

“I think there’s something to prove a little bit,” Marinelli said. “Not something to prove from last year, but there are some guys coming here off the street with something to prove. There are some guys in contract years with something to prove. There are some guys coming out saying, ‘I want to be a better player,’ who have something prove.

“You get that many guys wanting to prove something, then you can become better. Right now what I like is how hard they’re going after their craft.”

Last season was a mess for the Cowboys' defense. It has been referenced so many times this offseason that “32nd-ranked defense” has been tattooed on everybody. The Cowboys gave up 6,279 yards in 2013 a year after giving up a franchise-record 5,687 yards. Five quarterbacks had four-touchdown games against the Cowboys. Two times in a three-week span, they allowed more than 620 yards. The New Orleans Saints had 40 first downs.

“It definitely bothers us,” Church said. “I’m speaking for myself, but it definitely bothers me. But there’s nothing we can really say or prove different. We were 32nd in the league and we weren’t that good on the defensive side of the ball. This year, the only way we can counter that is by playing good and becoming one of the better teams in the league at taking the ball away and against the run and the pass.”

It’s not just the players. The tag falls on the coaches, too.

“Nobody wants to look at last year and take ownership of that, but we have to,” secondary coach Jerome Henderson said. “And we’ve got to get better from there, and we cannot let that happen again.”

Oh, and now the Cowboys have to show they can be better in 2014 without the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks, DeMarcus Ware, who was cut, last year’s leader in sacks, Jason Hatcher, who signed as a free agent with the Washington Redskins, and their best playmaker, Sean Lee, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in organized team activities.

But the sense is that Marinelli likes it this way. He had ubertalented defenses with the Chicago Bears with guys like Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman. He won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with guys like Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Simeon Rice, John Lynch and Ronde Barber.

He doesn’t have an Urlacher, Sapp, Brooks, Briggs, Rice or Lynch with this group.

He has Henry Melton, whom he coached to the Pro Bowl with the Bears, trying to prove he can come back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He has Bruce Carter trying to prove he is a big-time player in a contract year. He has Claiborne, a former sixth overall pick in the draft, trying to prove he is not a bust. He has Carr trying to prove he is worth the five-year, $50 million contract he received in 2012. He has George Selvie trying to prove he was not a one-year wonder after putting up seven sacks last season. He has Tyrone Crawford trying to prove he can come back from a torn Achilles.

He has low-cost free agents such as Terrell McClain, Jeremy Mincey and Amobi Okoye trying to prove they can be prime-time players. He has Justin Durant trying to prove he can be a middle linebacker and Kyle Wilber trying to prove he can be a strongside linebacker. He has Rolando McClain trying to prove that a player who has retired twice in the past year has the desire to keep playing. He has DeMarcus Lawrence trying to prove that a second-rounder can make an impact as a rookie. He has Wilcox trying to prove he can play strong safety.

He has guys like Church and Scandrick trying to prove that they can put up solid seasons in back-to-back years.

So much to prove. So much to forget.

“The first thing you do is you take it as coaches and players and you take accountability for it,” Marinelli said. “And no excuses. Now we look forward. Now it’s about the expectations of this group and with expectations you have to execute. It’s that simple. That simple, yet that hard.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The arrival of cornerback Kyle Fuller will not force 33 year old veteran Charles Tillman to move to safety.

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Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery confirmed Friday that Tillman is not a candidate to switch positions.

"You can rule that out 100 percent -- you don't even have to finish your question," Emery said. Charles Tillman is our starting corner and that's where he's going to be."

Emery's endorsement of Tillman nonwithstanding, Fuller is expected to contribute on defense next season and projects to be a future starter at cornerback, perhaps as early as 2015.

That much is certain.

However, the great unknown is how Fuller meshes with Tillman and fellow two-time Pro Bowler Tim Jennings, who has the security of a new four-year, $22.4 million contract extension he signed at the end of the regular season. Tillman signed a one-year deal with the Bears in March after he explored his options in free agency.

How will Tillman react to having his potential replacement looking over his shoulder?

We don't know the answer. But Emery isn't worried.

"I have to be honest with you -- it's rare that you do that [consult a veteran before making a draft choice at the same position], as we're so focused on getting the best player available and I completely trust the input of our scouts and coaches during that process," Emery said. "And we come to a conclusion and work through who is the best player at that pick, who represents the most value and who can help the Bears win. That's where the focus is, we don't bring players in and ask their advice on that, we know they'll be excited and are excited that we pick a good player that they see can contribute to wins. That's when they get excited.

"But I definitely had players text me last night and congratulate us on the pick and it was good to hear from them. And like Coach mentioned, we're a family, we're here for each other and we're going to help Kyle through this process. He'll probably have more than one mentor to help him through the process, and what's exciting about that is Kyle's the type of person who can accept mentoring. It takes a certain level of maturity to let others reach out and help along the way and Kyle is certainly that type of person."
On the eve of free agency two weeks ago, our four NFC North reporters -- Rob Demovsky (Green Bay Packers), Ben Goessling (Minnesota Vikings), Michael Rothstein (Detroit Lions) and Michael C. Wright (Chicago Bears) -- compiled a list of the top-15 free agents in the division.

Only three of the original 15 remain unsigned as free agency enters its third week. One of them, former Packers tight end Jermichael Finley, could remain that way for a while because of his neck injury.

Perhaps the biggest-name free agent from the NFC North, former Bears defensive end Julius Peppers, did not make the original list because he was not a free agent until he was released shortly after free agency opened. He signed with the Packers on March 15.

You can follow all of the NFL free-agent moves in Bill Polian's free-agent tracker, but let's revisit the NFC North top 15 and see what has changed in the last week:

1. Sam Shields, Packers CB: Signed a four-year, $39 million contract just a few hours into the open negotiating period on March 8. His $9.75 million per year average made him the fourth-highest paid cornerback in the league behind Darrelle Revis ($16 million), Brandon Carr ($10 million) and Aqib Talib ($9.8 million).

2. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions TE: Re-signed with the Lions for four years and $16 million, including a $4 million signing bonus.

3. Jermichael Finley, Packers TE: Trying to come back from neck fusion surgery, Finley remained unsigned after a visit to the Seattle Seahawks during free-agency's first week. According a report in the Green Bay Press-Gazette over the weekend, the Seahawks failed Finley on his physical during the visit, leaving his status in doubt.

4. Charles Tillman, Bears CB: Signed a one-year contract to return to Chicago after missing half of last season because of a torn triceps. The deal is worth about $3.5 million.

5. B.J. Raji, Packers DT: Less than a year after reportedly turning down a multi-year offer that averaged $8 million per season, he returned to the Packers for a one-year, $4 million contract.

6. Matt Cassel, Vikings QB: Opted out of his 2014 contract after the Super Bowl but signed a new two-year, $10.5 million deal with the Vikings on March 7, just before teams could start contacting his agent and will likely head into training camp with the inside track on the starting job.

7. Willie Young, Lions DL: Signed a three-year, $9 million contract with the Bears. Former seventh-round pick received his first extensive playing time with the Lions in 2013, becoming a full-time starter after Jason Jones was injured for the season in Week 3.

8. James Jones, Packers WR: After going unsigned during the first week of free agency, Jones signed a three-year, $10 million contract with the Oakland Raiders. The deal was similar to the three-year, $9.6 million deal he signed with the Packers three years ago.

9. Jared Allen, Vikings DE: Was weighing an offer from Seattle, where he has visited twice since the start of free agency. After three All-Pro selections in six years, Allen's time in Minnesota is over.

10. Josh McCown, Bears QB: Signed a two-year, $10 million contract to rejoin his old coach, Lovie Smith, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

11. Henry Melton, Bears DL: Coming off a torn ACL, Melton signed a one-year contract with the Dallas Cowboys that could become a four-year deal if the team exercises an option after the first year.

12. Devin Hester, Bears KR: Signed a three-year, $9 million with the Atlanta Falcons after the Bears decided not to pursue an extension with the kick return specialist.

13. Rashean Mathis, Lions CB: Remained unsigned after playing in 15 games and taking over as a starter early in the season last year.

14. Everson Griffen, Vikings DE: Cashed in on March 9th by signing a five-year, $42.5 million deal that included $20 million guaranteed to return to Minnesota.

15. Louis Delmas, Lions S: Signed a one-year, $2.25 million contract with the Miami Dolphins after the Lions released him with one year remaining on his contract in February, in part because of a cap number of $6.5 million in 2014.
CHICAGO -- Veteran cornerback Charles Tillman's decision to return to the Chicago Bears on a one-year deal even surprised his closest friend on the team.

Tillman
Briggs
Seven-time Pro Bowl weakside linebacker Lance Briggs told ESPN 1000's "Carmen and Jurko Show" on Monday he was positive Tillman and Lovie Smith would reunite in Tampa when the cornerback made an official visit to the Bucs at the onset of free agency.

However, talks between Tillman and the Buccaneers went nowhere. Tillman left Tampa's facility without an offer and within 48 hours the two-time Pro Bowl defensive back had agreed to terms on a new one-year contract with the Bears.

"He called me pretty often during this whole time period just to get my opinion on things," Briggs said. "I would call him and see how he felt and when he told me he had a trip to Tampa and I saw Darrelle Revis had been released, I thought it was pretty much a sure thing. I actually sent him a text that I wished him well and tell Lovie I say hi. I thought it was over. Then the next day I wake up and I get texts on my phone that Peanut re-signed. I'm over here screaming and then I called him and we had a long talk about stuff. I'm just happy he's back.

"I'm probably the happiest man in Chicago."

But Briggs lamented the current situation of free-agent defensive tackle Henry Melton, who is visiting the Dallas Cowboys on Monday after making previous stops in Minnesota and Seattle. The Bears have never ruled out the idea of re-signing Melton, but it's clear the club is not going to set the market for the three-technique defensive tackle, who played in just three games last year before tearing his ACL. Melton received the franchise tag last offseason and counted $8,454,725 against the Bears' salary cap in 2013.

"Henry Melton is coming off of ACL surgery in a season where he got tagged," Briggs said. "He had no complaints about it. He said he was coming in to play. Remember years back when I got tagged and said I didn't want to play because there are no guarantees past this year and if I get hurt I'll lose money. I wanted a long-term deal. People were calling me selfish for not taking the money, but now you watch Henry Melton go down.

Henry is still on the board as far as free agency goes and he's going to lose money. Football is a business, and for us players, we always have to protect ourselves the best we can. For him, I hope he gets the best possible deal that he can on a good team that can make a run for a championship. He deserves it."
The Chicago Bears talked after a disastrous 2013 season about wanting to revamp the defense and infuse it with youth, but the club's brass would've been failed miserably at the rebuilding effort had it elected to let cornerback Charles Tillman bolt via free agency.

Tillman
In laying out the team's vision for the offense moving forward, multiple sources talked about the Bears not necessarily wanting to pursue big names in free agency because the club wanted to gain toughness, and put a defensive unit full of athletic, physical players out on the field; dogs so to speak.

So although Tillman is a big name in Chicago, he certainly fits the above description. That's why the Bears benefitted greatly Friday by agreeing to terms with Tillman, who embodies all the traits Chicago’s front office constantly raves about.

“Charles is one of the NFL’s great players and a true leader on and off the field, and we’re happy he will be staying in Chicago,” Bears general manager Phil Emery said. “He remains the best in our game at forcing turnovers, and always has brought a tough, physical presence to our secondary. Charles also has a special connection to the people and community across Chicago and we’re excited for that to continue.”

A two-time Pro Bowler and the 2013 Walter Payton Man of the Year, Tillman ranks No. 3 in team history with 36 interceptions and leads the franchise in defensive return touchdowns (nine), INT return TDs (eight) and interception return yards (675).

Since Tillman came into the league in 2003, he’s tied for fifth in INTs, fifth in INT return yardage, and he’s tied for second in INT return TDs, all accomplished while starting in 150 of 154 games.

Tillman’s 42 forced fumbles rank as second in the league since 2003, and is the most among active cornerbacks. Tillman ranks as the only player since 2003 to pick off 30 or more passes and force 30-plus fumbles. In six of the last nine seasons, Tillman has ranked in the top 10 in forced fumbles.

Tillman currently ranks No. 5 in franchise history in tackles, and he’s broken up 132 passes which is good for fifth in the NFL since 2003.

At the NFL combine back in February, Emery said that defensive coordinator Mel Tucker told him a team’s cornerbacks are usually indicative of a defense’s toughness. Emery agreed, and with Tillman now in the fold paired with Tim Jennings, the stage is set for the Bears to build the defense exactly the way the front office envisioned.

“We need tough, physical players,” Emery said at the combine. “That’s what we want: tough, physical athletes. Mel [Tucker] has said it several times to me and I believe it. I know our players believe it: that, generally, the toughness of the team shows up at corner.”

Well, they don’t get much tougher than Tillman.

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