Vikings coach calls Tillman "a turnover machine"
February 27th, 2013
Playing cornerback for the famed 1985 Bears, Leslie Frazier displayed excellent ball skills in leading the eventual Super Bowl champions with six interceptions.
Now the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, Frazier is uniquely qualified to assess his successors, and he’s extremely impressed with two-time Pro Bowler Charles Tillman.
“I admire his talent a lot,” Frazier said. “I saw him at the Super Bowl when we were down there in New Orleans a few weeks ago and I told him I appreciate his game. He’s a fantastic player.”
Tillman was voted to his second straight Pro Bowl this past season, tying for the NFL lead with three interception return touchdowns and topping the league with 10 forced fumbles, tied for the most in a single season since the NFL started tracking the statistic in 1991.
In the process, Tillman increased his career total to 39 forced fumbles, the most by any player since he entered the league in 2003. The six other NFL players with at least 32 forced fumbles during that span—including Bears teammate Julius Peppers—are all pass-rushing defensive ends or outside linebackers. No other defensive back has more than 21 forced fumbles since 2003.
“It’s incredible when you take a look at what [Tillman] does year-in and year-out,” Frazier said. “It’s not like it’s an aberration or a one-year thing. He does it all the time. I don’t know if anybody does it better. When he’s tackling a guy he’s punching it out, or he’s intercepting the ball and he’s scoring with it. He’s a turnover machine.”
Tillman is the Bears’ all-time leader with nine defensive touchdowns and eight interception return TDs. His 33 career interceptions are the most by a cornerback in franchise history and the third most overall behind safeties Gary Fencik (38) and Richie Petitbon (37).
In five games against the Vikings since Frazier supplanted Brad Childress as Minnesota’s head coach, Tillman has two interceptions—one of which he returned 22 yards for a touchdown—one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
“Every week when you’re preparing for a particular team, you look at guys that can wreck the game against your team,” Frazier said. “He’s one of those guys that when we’re getting ready to play them we point out the fact that he’s going to be punching the ball and raking at the ball and trying to create turnovers, so we make our players aware of that.”
One of Tillman’s greatest achievements this past season was limiting Lions superstar receiver Calvin Johnson to three receptions for 34 yards Oct. 22 in Chicago and five catches for 72 yards Dec. 30 in Detroit, helping the Bears sweep the season series.
In Johnson’s other 14 games in 2012, he averaged eight catches and 133 yards, ultimately setting an NFL single-season record with 1,964 yards.
“You don’t want to miss the point that [Tillman] can cover pretty good too,” Frazier said. “He’s one of those guys that has the ability to shut down your best receiver. He does a good job when they match him up with people. He’s a good player.”
Frazier was also a good player for the Bears, appearing in 65 games with 49 starts in five seasons from 1981-85. The Alcorn State product compiled 20 career interceptions, returning two for touchdowns. Frazier’s team-leading seven picks in 1983 tied for the most by a Bears defensive back since Roosevelt Taylor had nine in 1963.
It’s difficult to imagine a more bittersweet day than Frazier experienced on Jan. 26, 1986; the Bears defeated the New England Patriots 46-10 in Super Bowl XX, but he sustained a knee injury while returning a punt late in the first half that ended his career at the age of 26.