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Five Things I Wish the 2016 Bears Had (#1)

| September 2nd, 2016

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#1 – A Shutdown Corner

Charles Tillman was a shut down corner.

Does that mean he shut down every receiver he faced in his Hall of Fame worthy Bears career? Of course not. In the modern NFL, with rules skewing more and more towards offensive football, it’ll be rare to see a defensive back opponents don’t have some modicum of success against.

No, in today’s league, a “shutdown corner” is less a corner who shuts down the opponent 100% of the time and more a corner the coaching staff feels comfortable lining up opposite a top receiver each and every down, confident he’ll win a majority of the one-on-one battles.

Having one of those guys makes playing defense in this league so much easier.

The Bears don’t have one. They don’t have anything close.

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Peanut Belongs In The Hall of Fame

| July 20th, 2016

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Administrative Note: This will be the first of 300 columns with the same headline.

When the 2021 NFL Hall of Fame Class is announced, Charles Tillman’s name should be on the list.

It’s not going to happen. Tillman spent his career being thought of as just a local hero even though he played in a major media market on a team that regularly had one of the best defenses in the NFL. While Tillman was one of the best players in the NFL, he was never really recognized for it.

Charles Woodson is a lock to be on that list. Tillman was a better player.

Woodson was most known for his ability to take the ball away, but he wasn’t necessarily better at that than Tillman. Woodson had a combined 98 interceptions and forced fumbles in 254 games. Peanut had 82 in 168 games. If you were to average that out to a 16 game season, Tillman would’ve averaged nearly eight per season, compared to around six for Woodson.

Woodson had more interceptions, but even there the difference isn’t great. Woodson averaged 4.1 interceptions per 16 games, while Tillman was at 3.6. While he could take the ball away, Woodson wasn’t nearly as good in coverage as Tillman was (the Packers typically put Tramon Williams on the other team’s best receiver).

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Adam Hoge’s Charles Tillman Story

| July 19th, 2016

From Adam’s Facebook page, located HERE:

I haven’t shared this story publicly, but with the news of Charles Tillman’s retirement, it seems like the right time:

My son, James, has a couple congenital heart defects that will eventually require surgery. We first learned about these defects in 2014 when James was born prematurely and spent two months in the hospital. The fall of 2014 was stressful not only because of what was going on at home, but also because the Bears were going through a drama-filled season and it seemed like something crazy was happening every day at work. As if that wasn’t enough, 87.7 The Game suddenly folded in November, creating a tumultous (and awkward) final month and a half of the season.

Meanwhile, Charles Tillman was going through his own personal hardship after suffering a season-ending triceps injury for the second year in a row. But in the middle all the chaos, Tillman got word of what was going on with James from former PR guru Mike Corbo and pulled me aside at Halas Hall to talk to me about what was going on. As you may know, one of Tillman’s daughters needed a heart transplant when she was just three-months-old, so he could relate to the fear we were experiencing after hearing doctors put the words “heart” and “surgery” in the same sentence.

It was a small gesture, but one that meant a lot to both my wife and me. The fact that Corbo took the time to set that up and Tillman took the time to talk to me about everything won’t be forgotten.

I tend to be very skeptical when I hear people say that a particular athlete is “a good guy” or even “a bad guy” because the truth is that (for the most part) we don’t really know them that well. In Tillman’s case, I think the work he does with The Cornerstone Foundation speaks for itself, but there are also many other stories like this one that show the type of character he displayed on and off the field during his career.

The 2014 season seemingly got uglier and uglier every day, but Tillman didn’t go anywhere. He was hurt and likely knew it was his last season as a Bear, but he was right there on the field every day trying to coach up his teammates, when many players would have collected their money and watched from home. From time-to-time when I saw him, Tillman checked in with me on James and that continued even after the season when he was no longer with the organization.

I’ve said this before, but watching Tillman go one-on-one with Calvin Johnson twice a year was a highlight of my time covering football. And the “Peanut Punch” was an important contribution to the game. Congrats to Charles Tillman on retirement. A great player, a great Bear and a great person.

Special thanks to Hoge for allowing me to share this.

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Audibles From the Long Snapper: Around the League We Go!

| December 8th, 2015

AUDIBLESNEW

(1) Giants have lost 3 games this season (Cowboys, Falcons, Jets) due to egregious mismanagement. I love Tom Coughlin but barring a substantial run over the next two months he can’t be their head coach in 2016.

(2) Spend a few minutes and read some of the love poems the national writers wrote about Dan Quinn in September. Atlanta has fallen off a cliff. Peter King was the leader of the QuinnLove Movement.

(3) Carolina should put Charles Tillman on the shelf until the postseason. Let him get healthy. And then let me root harder for a non-Bears team than I ever have before.

(4) Atlanta was the first paper tiger to fall. The second? Minnesota. That team has feasted on poor opponents. They may still make the playoffs but they might be the 10th best team in the conference when they do.

(5) If I were running all of the franchises, these jobs would join Miami and Tennessee on the market this January:

  • Cleveland. Too much change can be a bad thing but I have no idea what Mike Pettine brings to an organization.
  • New York Giants. Have a press conference. Put Tom Coughlin in the ring of honor. And then get thirty years younger at the head coaching spot.
  • New Orleans. It’s over. Move on.
  • San Diego. And don’t be surprised if John Fox brings Mike McCoy to take over the Bears offense should Adam Gase find a head coaching gig.
  • Detroit. I’m not sure why Jim Cadwell is still the coach. Once he admitted to not playing for the Hail Mary, I wouldn’t have let him back into his office.
  • St. Louis. I’ve been a fan of Jeff Fisher for a long time but that team is far too talented to get blown out each and every week. Fisher doesn’t have it anymore.

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Farewell, Charles Tillman

| April 9th, 2015

News broke last night that Charles Tillman will not be back with the Bears in 2015, ending a 12 year run that featured 156 games, 857 tackles, 3 sacks, 42 forced fumbles, 36 interceptions, 9 touchdowns, and countless memories.

Tillman will be remembered as one of the three faces of the Lovie Smith era, the most successful run the Bears have had since their Super Bowl team of the 1980s.  While he never matched the off-field recognition counterparts Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs received, Tillman’s play on the field was stellar; his production was comparable to that of many compatriots who will enter the Hall of Fame.

On-field excellence

Tillman’s career saw him go up against some of the best receivers in the NFL, and he more than held his own.  Bears fans knew they had a great player when he stole the ball from Randy Moss for a game-saving interception in the end zone his rookie year, and in 2012 he shut down Calvin Johnson twice in the midst of the most productive season a wide receiver has ever had in the NFL.

In between, Tillman became famous for the Peanut Punch, his signature move that resulted in 42 forced fumbles, including an astonishing 10 in 2012.   After 12 seasons with the Bears, Tillman is the undisputed best defensive back in franchise history.  His name is scattered throughout the franchise record books, including most defensive touchdowns, most interception return yards, most interceptions returned for touchdowns, and most forced fumbles.

Off-field greatness

But greater than his impact on Sundays was his off-field impact in Chicago.  Perhaps no Bear since Walter Payton has had as significant of an off-field impact in Chicago as Tillman, which made it so fitting when Tillman won the Walter Payton Man of the Year award from the NFL following the 2013 season.

He has been involved in a number of charitable causes in Chicago throughout his career, most notably the Cornerstone Foundation, which he and his wife founded to “provide opportunities and resources to children and their families who are in need.”  Tillman’s days as a Bear may be over, but his presence will undoubtedly continue to be felt throughout the Chicagoland area through his community service.

Hard to say goodbye

Tillman’s exit serves as a painful reminder that Father Time remains undefeated.  Following the best season of his career in 2012, Tillman battled through injuries from the get-go in 2013. He still managed to force 6 turnovers in 8 games, but then he tore his triceps and was out for the rest of the season.  After working his way back for 2014, Tillman lasted only 1.5 games before suffering the same injury.

As Tillman sat on the sidelines, television cameras caught him overcome with emotion as he realized this could be the end of his run in Chicago.  Watching on television 2,000 miles away, I couldn’t help but share Tillman’s tears, and I’m sure I was not alone among Bears fans in that moment.

If ever a player deserved to go out on top, it was Charles Tillman.  It would have felt right to see him win a Super Bowl and then retire, or at least have a strong final season before leaving Chicago on his own terms.  But unfortunately life cannot be scripted, and instead we had to watch his body betray him these last two years.

Selfishly, I want Tillman to retire this offseason.  It would be hard to watch him in a uniform other than Chicago’s.  But if he does sign somewhere else for one last run, I hope he can manage to stay healthy and have a productive year, and I will be cheering for his team should they make the playoffs.

And whether he plays for another team or not in 2015, Charles Tillman will forever be a Bear.

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Position-by-Position at the Bye: Linebackers & Secondary

| October 30th, 2014

NFL: Chicago Bears at Atlanta Falcons

The following is part of a series of position-by-position breakdowns at the halftime point of the 2014 season.

Shea McClellin had a breakout game and broke his hand in practice the following week.

Jon Bostic had a breakout game and his back decided it had enough.

Darryl Sharpton had a breakout game and has been relegated to situational defense since for some reason.

Lance Briggs can’t stay on the field. D.J. Williams is a useful if unspectacular player in the middle. Khaseem Greene struggles as the Bears can’t find a position for him and the sample size is far too small to evaluate Christian Jones.

The unit as a whole deserves credit for helping to improve last year’s porous run defense and some blame for their struggles in coverage. But when a team has found themselves starting their fourth, fifth and sixth linebackers in a game how fair an evaluation can one actually provide?

Grade: Incomplete

Note: The Bears won’t do this but they should go full youth movement at the position over the second half of the season. Sit D.J. Williams. Sit Lance Briggs. Find out what you have in a combination of Sharpton, Bostic, Jones. Move McClellin around and see where, if anywhere, he can be most productive. Bears have eight games to learn what they have at linebacker for the next several years. To misuse that time would be a terrible mistake.

Keep reading to learn how bad the secondary has been!

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Does Charles Tillman belong in the Hall of Fame?

| September 17th, 2014

Longtime Chicago cornerback Charles “Peanut” Tillman was placed on season-ending injured reserve this week after he tore his triceps against San Francisco this past Sunday.  This marks the second season in a row Tillman’s season ended early due to the injury.  With two straight injury-shortened seasons and a contract that expires at the end of the season, this seems to be the end of the road for the 33 year old cornerback, though Tillman has vowed his career is not yet finished.

If Tillman has indeed reached the end of his career, he has nothing to be ashamed of.  The 2003 2nd round pick has played 12 years, all for the Bears, and generally played at a very high level.  He reached two Pro Bowls (2011 and 2012), was named a 1st team All-Pro once (2012), and holds franchise records for defensive touchdowns (9), interception return yards (675), interceptions returned for touchdowns (8), and forced fumbles (38).  Tillman also owns the franchise forced fumbles record for a single season (10, tied for NFL record) and single game (4, NFL record).

Canton worthy?

There is little doubt that Tillman is the greatest cornerback the Chicago Bears have ever had, which is no small feat considering the illustrious defensive history of the franchise, but a more interesting question posed to me by Lorin Cox was this: does Charles Tillman belong in the Hall of Fame?

This is a difficult question to answer as there are a number of factors that go into a player’s Hall of Fame candidacy.  Let’s start with a look at the numbers, which were kindly provided by Lorin. The table below compares Tillman’s vital statistics to those of several recent defensive backs who were inducted into the Hall of Fame, as well as two active players who will undoubtedly go into the Hall of Fame after they are done.  Note that all of the above statistics about Tillman’s franchise records above are from the official Wikipedia page listing Chicago Bears records. These may differ slightly from the stats listed in the table below, which are from Pro Football Reference.

Looking at these numbers, two things stand out. First, if this is indeed the end of Tillman’s career, he did not play for as long as most of his compatriots. This will hurt his volume numbers some and may damage his Hall candidacy.  Second, Tillman’s numbers absolutely stack up, even on a volume basis.  He has more tackles and defensive touchdowns than three of the other seven players and has forced more turnovers than four of them.  His forced fumbles stand out well ahead of the group, thanks largely to his signature “Peanut Punch.”  If there is one place where Tillman is clearly lacking, it is in interceptions; his 36 falls well short of the rest.

When you look at per-season numbers, however, Tillman’s case begins to look even better, as you can clearly see in the table below.  His 3.27 interceptions per season fits in nicely, and his forced fumbles per season dwarfs everybody else.  Tillman rates well against his peers in both tackles per season (2nd) and turnovers per season (first by a mile).

More than just numbers

Of course, there are many more factors to consider than just numbers when evaluating a player for the Hall of Fame, especially for defensive players who are not pass rushers, as statistics often fail to accurately reflect their play.  We’ll start with the areas where Tillman excels before moving on to where he might struggle.

The 50 media members who vote for the Hall of Fame often take off-field actions into account, and Tillman’s sparkling record there can only help his cause.  Tillman was named the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2013 and has a long history of charity work and community involvement in Chicago.  He seems like a genuinely nice guy who everybody likes and respects, which can go a long way in the voting room.

Tillman also has a well-publicized signature play, the Peanut Punch.  This has increased his national profile and should help him get votes as well.  The Hall of Fame is partially about telling the story of the NFL, and being well known for something that coaches now try to teach their players helps make it easier to consider you an important part of that story.

But there is one essential area where Tillman is very lacking that I think will ultimately keep him out of the Hall of Fame.  Tillman has simply not garnered enough national awards for his play.  He has only been to two Pro Bowls and was only named an All Pro-1st or 2nd team-once.  It will be extremely hard for the national media to convince themselves that Tillman was one of the best players of his generation when he was only considered one of the best four players at his position one time in his entire career.  If he had been voted to a bunch of Pro Bowls, that might help overcome the lack of All Pro nominations, but alas, that did not happen.  It seems kind of silly that a popularity contest based on fan voting would be a factor in determining who is worthy of the Hall of Fame, but that does indeed appear to be the case.

Hall of Very Good

Now that I’ve told you that I don’t think Tillman will make the Hall of Fame, I’m sure some people are wondering if I think he should.  I’m sorry to say that, when looking at things objectively, I don’t.  Tillman was a very good player for a very long time, but I don’t think he was consistently great.  Therefore, I don’t think Tillman belongs in the Hall of Fame, as much as it pains me to say it.  To me, Tillman is the definition of a guy who belongs in the Hall of Very Good, a term I believe was coined by Peter King (though I cannot find a source to confirm this).  He was a very good player and a great man, but is just not quite at the caliber of somebody who deserves to be immortalized in the Hall of Fame.

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Three Thoughts After Two Games

| September 16th, 2014

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Thought 1

The Bears are 1-1 through two games. Exactly where everyone thought they’d be. But if they had achieved this record in the conventional manner – beating Buffalo at home and losing to San Fran on the road – the team would currently be shrouded in questions regarding their status as contenders. Instead they endured a media storm of criticism and responded by playing their most complete half of football in the Jay Cutler era. Now they are being showered with praise on the pages of the dailies and on radio airwaves. They should be 1-1 after two games, no question, but how they’ve reached that mark should inspire them through this difficult stretch of the 2014 schedule

Thought 2

I have often stated Charles “Peanut” Tillman is my favorite Chicago Bear of the modern era. And I can’t remember a more difficult-to-watch sequence in my football viewing than Tillman, tears pouring down his cheeks on a Santa Clara sideline, coming to the brutal realization a second consecutive season and perhaps career had been ended by a flukish injury.

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Three Thoughts as Free Agency Slows Down…

| March 21st, 2014

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If you follow DaBearsBlog on Twitter, you know that I’m going to win a billion dollars soon. So…I got that going for me. Which is nice. In the meantime I’ll continue living my life among the not-so-rich.

Three thoughts…

  1. Everyone spent a month telling me that Lovie Smith was going to purge the Bears roster of all their talented players. Everyone spent a month telling me the allure of Lovie Smith would be too great for them. Corey Wootton. Minnesota. Henry Melton. Dallas. Julius Peppers. Green Bay. Charles Tillman. Home. Devin Hester. Atlanta. Major Wright. Mutual of Omaha. The only player Lovie pulled off the Bears roster was a man who owes his career renaissance to the man replacing Lovie. Is that ironic? It might be. I’m actually not sure.
  2. I don’t understand fan reaction to players leaving their favorite team. There is no reason to root against Josh McCown or Devin Hester or Henry Melton now that they’re no longer a Chicago Bear. If there was no salary cap, all of these men would remain in the navy blue and orange for years to come but running a modern organization is about making difficult decisions without the luxury of sentiment. I hope Devin Hester breaks the record Week One for Atlanta, as long as the Bears don’t open the season there. Because nobody will remember him returning kicks for the Falcons. They’ll remember him returning kicks on the Drive.
  3. A majority of the Tweets and emails I receive ask one question, “Who do you see the Bears drafting with the fourteenth pick?” Here is my answer: I don’t know. But one thing I truly believe is that no position on the defensive side of the ball is off the table. Yes there are pressing needs at DT and safety but if Emery identifies a potentially game-changing pass rusher, he’s taking him. If he identifies a potential shutdown corner, he’s taking him. I don’t think any of the moves made in free agency actually influence the draft approach, despite what Emery said in his press conference. As a matter of fact, I think Emery’s press conference statement that free agency will clue the media in to his draft approach is an old fashioned, transparent smokescreen.

Enjoy the weekend, poor people.

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Reactions to Day One of Free Agency

| March 12th, 2014

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ON LAMARR HOUSTON…

Of the three high profile defensive ends on the open NFL market, Lamarr Houston was the best fit for the Chicago Bears. Neither he nor the two Michaels (Bennett, Johnson) are elite edge rushers who’ll draw double teams on every down. But Houston is smart, gets off blocks and displays tremendous discipline; he is one of the best run-stopping defensive ends in the game.

The Bears could fix their pass rush all they wanted. It wouldn’t matter if they continued being one of the worst run defenses in the history of recorded time.

From Brad Biggs:

…Houston plays the run very well, he’s durable (hasn’t missed a game in four seasons) and has the flexibility to shift around on the line. There is a good chance the Bears will slide him inside in the nickel package, which is probably what the plan was for Bennett. He’s athletic enough to see time at the three technique tackle position, if needed.

Versatility is great but production is better and that is what Emery is counting on. The reality is Houston, who will turn 27 in June, offers more bang for the buck than a 34-year-old Peppers and probably more than Jared Allen or DeMarcus Ware, both soon to turn 32.

Remember this, desperate Bears fans: it ain’t all getting fixed in twenty-four hours. Houston doesn’t solve their woes along the defensive line. But he solves one of them.

THREE ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS

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