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Tillman on the ball at training camp
July 31st, 2013

Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation, prolanthropyThe unique ball skills that helped Charles Tillman earn back-to-back trips to the Pro Bowl the past two seasons have been on display during the first week of Bears training camp. 

The 11-year NFL veteran has picked up right where he left off last year, intercepting passes and causing fumbles with his patented “Peanut Punch” on the practice field in Bourbonnais. 

Last Saturday Tillman picked off a Jay Cutler pass and returned it for a touchdown on the very first play of team drills and later stripped the ball from tight end Steve Maneri after a short reception. 

Tillman had great success in both of those areas of the game last season, setting Bears records and leading the NFL with three interception return touchdowns and 10 forced fumbles, tied for the most in a single season since the league starting tracking the stat in 1991.

At the age of 32, it appears that Tillman is stiff-arming Father Time and continuing to get better. He was voted to the first two Pro Bowls of his career the past two seasons after turning 30. 

“I haven’t been around him that long,” said Bears first-year head coach Marc Trestman. “But if that [interception of Cutler] at the start of practice was any evidence of anything but a guy who continues to play at a high level, I don’t know what is.” 

The quick punch that Tillman used to knock the ball away from Maneri later in the same practice was reminiscent of what the Bears cornerback has done throughout his career in Chicago. Tillman’s 39 forced fumbles are the most by any player since he entered the NFL in 2003. 

“It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen, said Trestman, who spent the last five seasons as head coach of the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes after 17 years as an NFL assistant. “His ability to create a turnover is unique. You’ve got every defensive coach in America watching how he does it, trying to figure out how he can get the ball out the way he does on such a consistent level.”

Tillman was a big reason the Bears led the NFL with 44 takeaways last season. It’s a feat the team will try to repeat in 2013, led by coaches who put just as much importance on forcing turnovers as Lovie Smith and his staff did the previous nine years. 

“I've been in the meetings; I know the emphasis there is on it,” said Trestman, whose expertise is on the offensive side of the ball. “I know the pride the defense has had here for so many years. With new players, we have a new team, but we certainly want to stay consistent. 

“By doing it in practice, you have guys doing it who have been around it. That’s a teaching lesson to the new guys that this is certainly something that is so important. As important as it is to protect the football, at the same time we’re trying to create turnovers any way we can.” 

In Monday’s practice, Tillman once again showed his ball skills as well as his instincts and playmaking ability by breaking up three passes in team drills. “He’s a very skilled athlete,” said Bears first-year defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.

“He’s very competitive, he’s super smart, he really knows what he’s doing out there and he’s very, very consistent. What you see is what you get. He’s going to do it every time. He’s going to compete at a high level, and those are the kinds of guys you can win with and they’re fun to coach.”