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Tillman Stood Out From the Start
November 19th, 2012

Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation, prolanthropyThey ultimately would become longtime teammates and friends. But former Bears defensive end Alex Brown admits that he knew absolutely nothing about Charles Tillman when the team selected the cornerback in the second round of the 2003 draft out of Louisiana Lafayette.

“My first thought when he came in the NFL was ‘who the heck is this guy?’” Brown said with a laugh. “Nobody knew who he was. I had never heard anything about him and couldn’t find any video of him online. But once we got to training camp, he made plays and really stood out.”

Tillman made an immediate impact, playing in all 16 games with 13 starts as a rookie. He tied for the NFL lead among rookies with four interceptions, topped the Bears with 10 pass breakups and finished third on the defense with 89 tackles behind Brian Urlacher and Jerry Azumah.

Tillman provided a hint of things to come by forcing a fumble in his very first NFL game in the 2003 season opener in San Francisco. It was the first of 36 forced fumbles he’s had in 10 seasons, the most by an NFL defensive back and the second most overall during that span.

The play that first earned Tillman national recognition, however, came late in his rookie season when he snatched a pass out of the hands of Vikings star receiver Randy Moss in the end zone with 1:02 left in the fourth quarter, preserving a 13-10 victory.

“I think his biggest play early on was the one against Moss in the end zone,” Brown said. “And then I think as his confidence grew he just kind of blossomed into what very well may end up as the best cornerback to ever play in a Bears uniform.

“He’s that good, and he’s been that good for a long time. People are just starting to notice, which is a shame. But at least they’re noticing now.”

Bears teammates for seven seasons from 2003-09, Brown always appreciated Tillman’s attention to detail. 

“He’s so technique savvy and sound,” Brown said. “He wants to do it absolutely perfectly. He’s crazy in that sense. He knows that if he makes even the slightest mistake against [the Lions’ Johnson] or [the Packers’] Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, it’s over, he loses. So he’s trained himself to push himself each and every day, and you see it as he works.”

Tillman has been an integral part of a Bears defense that is ranked No. 1 in the NFL in the Aikman Ratings, which combines seven different statistical categories.

He was named NFC defensive player of the month for October after returning interceptions for touchdowns in back-to-back road wins in Dallas and Jacksonville, and holding star receiver Calvin Johnson to three receptions for 34 yards in a 13-7 win over the Lions.

Tillman later forced a career-high four fumbles in a 51-20 rout of the Titans and was singled out during a nationally-televised interview on the eve of the election by President Barack Obama, who said: “Tillman may be the defensive player of the year the way he’s playing.”

“He’s deserved that type of recognition for a long time,” Brown said. “He’s been doing this stuff for a long time. It’s unfortunate but it’s a good thing that he played with a lot of players that kind of took a lot of that [attention] away. But he’s still making plays and his time has come.

“For this team he definitely needs to be on the field because not only do people think about [Tillman forcing fumbles], they’ll actually go to the ground because they know he’s going to punch it out. It’s amazing. He’s that perfect person that does exactly what Lovie [Smith] wants.

“He’s honestly throwing himself into the defensive player of the year conversation.”