Charles Tillman (99 TACK, 1.0 SACK, 4 TFL, 12 PD, 3 INT, 2 TD, 4 FF, 2 FR)
At age 30, Tillman had one of his best seasons as a pro. He was third on the team with a career-high 99 tackles, while leading the team in passes defended, forced fumbles, interception return yards and defensive touchdowns. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), he was thrown at 115 times in 2011, fourth most of any CB in the league. Chalk that up to a defense that was fifth against the run, forcing opposing offenses to air it out, and the fact Tillman always covers the best receiver on the opposing team. Yet despite all that attention, he allowed just one touchdown on the year. His efforts this season earned him his first trip to the Pro Bowl.
CB Tim Jennings
Jason O. Watson/US Presswire
Tim Jennings (77 TACK, 4 TFL, 10 PD, 2 INT, 1 FF, 1FR)
Jennings started 15 games this year. He was thrown at 110 times, seventh most in the league according to PFF, yet gave up zero TDs. He was strong against the run all year, always showing a willingness to come up in support. His numbers compare favorably to Tillman's, yet Jennings had a knack for giving up the big play this year, especially late in the campaign. At critical moments in the season, particularly in a crucial Week 15 contest versus the Seattle Seahawks, Jennings crumbled. He fits well in Chicago's cover 2 but can be exploited when forced to man up.
D.J. Moore (44 TACK, 8 PD, 4 INT, 1TD)
Despite missing three games with an ankle injury, Moore led the team in interceptions. Serving as the team's starting nickelback, Moore had a solid season shutting down opposing slot receivers. According to PFF, opposing QBs had a passer rating of just 60.9 when throwing at Moore, lower than both Tillman and Jennings. He did not allow a TD on the season and gave a up long pass play of just 25 yards. Moore is also very effective as a blitzer. His seven QB pressures are the most by any non-defensive lineman on the team.
Corey Graham (16 TACK, 3 PD, 3 INT, 2 FF)
Graham started in place of the injured Moore for three games mid-season and racked up three interceptions. He's arguably the best cover corner on the team and has the size (6-0, 196) to matchup with bigger defenders. According to PFF, he played just 89 defensive snaps, mostly from the slot position, yet graded out higher than Moore. He also led the team in special teams tackles (22).
Zackary Bowman (15 TACK)
Bowman served mainly as a special teams player until Week 16, when the team started him over Jennings, who was struggling at the time. In his one shot to impress, Bowman stunk up Lambeau Field. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers targeted Bowman early and often. The Bears' former fifth-round pick gave up three touchdowns in that defeat, which officially ended Chicago's bid for the playoffs.
The Bears ranked 28th in the league in passing defense. Not all of the blame should be heaped on the corners, as poor play from the safeties and a lack of a pass rush also contributed, but they do deserve some of the culpability. They all showed well as tacklers but outside of Tillman, they struggled in man-to-man coverage. Far too often, opposing offenses were able to beat Chicago's cornerbacks one-on-one.
Tillman is signed through 2013 and will continue to lead the secondary for the next two seasons. Yet Bowman, Jennings and Graham are all unrestricted free agents.
CB Corey Graham
Bowman is a liability in coverage and won't be returning. The team signed Graham to a one-year deal last offseason. He has said on numerous occasions that he wants the opportunity to play defense full-time, something the Bears have been reluctant to give him during his five years with the club. He is a captain on special teams and proved this year he can hold his own out of the slot. If Chicago low-balls him, there will be plenty of other NFL teams waiting to snatch him up.
The big decision comes with Jennings. Bears coaches became frustrated with his play toward the end of last season, which could leave a bad taste in their mouths. Jennings isn't awful, he's just average and incosistent. Chicago's front office will likely be hesitant to bring him back.
With Moore signed through 2012, the team may choose to slide him outside in place of Jennings. They could then sign Graham and put him at nickel. Or they may say goodbye to all three free agents and reload through free agency and the draft. As of right now, that looks like the most-likely scenario. The Bears would be wise to get aggressive in free agency for UFAs like Atlanta's Brent Grimes, Tennessee's Cortland Finnegan or Kansas City's Brandon Carr. The club should also consider using one of its four picks in the first three rounds of the 2012 draft on a top-tier corner prospect.
This has been an area of weakness for years now, and Tillman isn't getting any younger. It's time to restock.
*Stats: TCK (tackles), SACK (sacks), TFL (tackles for loss), PD (passes defended), FF (forced fumbles), FR (fumble recoveries), TD (touchdowns), BLK (blocked kicks)
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of Bear Report magazine and BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.