Watching from the sideline, Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman has been impressed with how some of his young teammates have performed on defense in recent games.
After permitting 106 points in embarrassing road losses to the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers, the Bears allowed only one touchdown in each of their home wins over the Minnesota Vikings and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Young players such as defensive ends David Bass and Cornelius Washington, linebacker Christian Jones and nickel back Demontre Hurst have helped key the resurgence.
“They’re getting better each time they step up,” Tillman said on Comcast SportsNet. “Each time they get in a game they get this much better, this much better. I’m excited for them. They’re a good group of young guys. Right now the main thing that we have to do on an entire team level is be consistent and I think those young guys are starting to show their consistency.”
In the Bears’ 21-13 win over the Buccaneers Nov. 23 at Soldier Field, Bass sacked quarterback Josh McCown, forcing a fumble that Washington recovered to set up the go-ahead touchdown. Hurst later forced a key fumble and Washington recorded his first NFL sack.
The victory improved the Bears’ record to 5-6 and kept their slim playoff hopes alive for the time being. It came against former Bears coach Lovie Smith, who is in his first season in the same role with Tampa Bay. Tillman played nine seasons for Smith in Chicago from 2004-12 and has great respect for his former coach. The two chatted on the field briefly before the game.
“He was trying to coach his team; I was trying to coach my [defensive backs],” said Tillman, who is out for the season with a torn triceps muscle. “So it was just a quick hi-and-bye kind of thing. It was super quick; about two minutes worth of talking about how good the weather is in Tampa and I was talking about how cold it is here. It was a good two-minute conversation.”
Tillman also caught up with McCown before the game. McCown signed with the Buccaneers during the offseason after excelling as Jay Cutler’s backup with the Bears.
“I like Josh. Josh is a top-five teammate I’ve ever had in my 12 years,” Tillman said. “He’s a great dude. When he was here, the only thing he wanted was for Jay to succeed and be the best he could be. He knew his role being the backup quarterback and he was so supportive of everybody. He embraced everybody. He embraced his role. He was a good leader.”
Interestingly, the Bears beat Smith and the Buccaneers at the coach’s own game, generating four takeaways and a season-high five sacks. The defensive line led the charge, with tackle Stephen Paea recording two sacks for the first time in his four-year NFL career.
“Guys were hungry,” Tillman said. “I think this is the best our d-line has ever played. I was excited. I was happy for the d-line. They were eating. They were hungry. It was a great day.”
The Bears trailed the Buccaneers 10-0 before rallying to score 21 unanswered points in the third quarter after coach Marc Trestman and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker lit into the team in the locker room at halftime.
"I think everyone basically just said, 'Hey, it's about pride right now. We've got to go.'" Tillman said. "And I think you saw a different team in the second half. Hopefully it can be a long-term effect for the rest of the year. I don't know. It worked whatever all the coaches said. We made our adjustments and guys responded to that."