Wednesday, October 1, 2003
Updated: October 2, 10:46 AM ET
Tillman eager for first NFL start
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- When Chicago Bears cornerback Charles
Tillman heard one of the coaches wanted to see him, the rookie was
sure he was in trouble.
"I was like, `Ohhh, what did I do? I did something wrong,"
Actually, he's been doing a lot right lately. So much so that,
three games into his NFL career, Tillman has earned himself a
start. That's why defensive backs coach Vance Bedford wanted to
chat with Tillman before practice Wednesday -- to tell him he'd be
starting Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.
It's a huge honor for the rookie. And an equally huge challenge.
"It's Tim Brown and Jerry Rice, it doesn't get any better than
that," Tillman said. "It's the NFL, the best in the world. That's
what I should expect. That's why I'm here, to go against the
Hillman was a second-round pick out of Louisiana-Lafayette,
where he had 12 career interceptions and six fumble recoveries.
Defensive coordinator Greg Blache said earlier this year that he
could see Tillman starting some time this season. Most, including
Tillman, figured it would be later in the season.
But at 0-3, the Bears are struggling on defense -- and everywhere
else, for that matter -- and Blache and coach Dick Jauron are trying
to shake things up. Jerry Azumah has struggled in his role as the
starting right corner, and Blache and Jauron like what they've seen
so far from Tillman.
"He's a kid we think may be a playmaker, and what we're trying
to do is get more guys that can make plays on the field," Blache
said of Tillman. "Everybody makes mistakes. The problem we have is
our margin of error is so small that when we make a mistake, it's
devastating, because we can't overcome it because we don't make the
"Two years ago we made as many, probably more mistakes,"
Blache added. "We were intercepting balls. We were recovering
fumbles. We were scoring touchdowns on defense. We were doing
things to overcome our mistakes. Right now we aren't."
Jauron also said that rookie linebacker Lance Briggs will
replace Bryan Knight in the starting lineup Sunday.
"We're a football team that's 0-3," Blache said of the
changes. "You say, `OK, why is it? What's missing.' Sometimes it
isn't always a conventional thing. Sometimes the answer is not
going to be so obvious it lands on your face. Sometimes you just
need to shake the box up."
Azumah played well as Walt Harris' backup his first three
seasons, recording two interceptions, two forced fumbles and 15
deflected passes. Those numbers, and the ease with which Azumah
made the transition from college running back to NFL corner,
convinced the Bears to let Harris go after the 2001 season.
But Azumah hasn't fared as well as a starter. Though he had his
first career sack last season, he didn't have an interception and
was beaten on some big plays.
He didn't have a good showing in Monday night's 38-23 loss to
Green Bay, either. The game wasn't even three minutes old when
Ahman Green faked left on Azumah, juked right and sprinted 60 yards
for Green Bay's first touchdown.
Blache defended Azumah, saying he's done a solid job. But he
also conceded that Azumah might be one of those players who is
better off the bench.
"He may be better playing in a role as opposed to being
structured as a starter," Blache said. "He had a great preseason
this year, and then came into the first three games and had some
inconsistencies. Actually, he didn't play poorly. (Tillman) played
Rice was one of Tillman's idols growing up. He didn't have
posters of the receiver on his walls or any of his jerseys, but he
had several of Rice's football cards.
But Tillman has learned quickly that he can't be intimated by
who he sees across the field. The first game, he had to defend
Terrell Owens. The second week, it was Randy Moss.
Now it's Rice.
"I've just got to do my job," Tillman said. "I know he's a
future Hall of Famer. Just because he's a future Hall of Famer
doesn't mean you should let him catch the ball. I have a job just
like he has a job, and we're just going to be out there battling
Anthony Thomas didn't practice because of a bruised
shoulder, but Jauron said he expects the running back to return
Thursday. ... The Bears waived injured linebacker Bobbie Howard and
signed Hunter Hillenmeyer off the practice roster.