High Expectations

When the Bears selected Charles Tillman with the 35th overall pick in the 2003 draft several factions were saying "Who?" Well "Peanut" proved the critics wrong and became the Bears best cornerback as a rookie. Now he's ready to take his game and the defense to the next level.

"My goal is this league is to be a Pro Bowl player. I think I'm a good player now, but I'm trying to be a great player," Tillman said.

Tillman showed he had a knack for making the big play on several occasions. Although it took him four starts to get his first career interception, which came off Lions QB Joey Harrington, that began a streak of three interceptions in a span of four games.

Going up against some of the best receivers in the game didn't intimidate Tillman, who faced future Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Tim Brown in his first career start.

Tillman made one of the top plays of the year when he ripped the ball out of Randy Moss' hands and secured a last minute victory with an interception in the end zone.

However Tillman doesn't want to be known as a one hit wonder. One play doesn't make a season and striving for consistency is what separates good from great.

"Right now I'm just trying to stay consistent in my play because I know a lot of people are just going to talk about the (Randy) Moss play, but in all my rookie is over with," Tillman said. "It's cool that I've established myself from that, but I'm not thriving on that anymore. Right now I'm right at zero, it's like I'm a rookie again. I'm hungry I want it. It's kind of like competing against yourself. I know I had a good first year, I'll counter that by having a better second year just try to turn it up a notch each year."

Tillman, a second-round selection of Louisiana-Lafayette in the 2003, will have his work cut out to outdo his rookie campaign. He tied for the NFL interception lead among all rookies with four while starting 13 of 16 games at cornerback. The first Bears rookie to lead the team in picks in 13 years, Tillman also led the team with 10 pass defenses and ranked second among all Bears defensive backs with 89 tackles.

His accomplishments on the field led to numerous honors off. Tillman was named Sports Illustrated's Rookie of the Year, the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year selection by Football Digest and most recently the rookie recipient of the Brian Piccolo Award. Brian Urlacher has long been the face of the Chicago Bears, but if Tillman becomes a top-notch cornerback the middle linebacker may have to share the spotlight.

Tillman is trying to avoid the hype that has been placed at his feet.

"I don't think I'm that shutdown corner yet," Tillman said. "It's not my place (to say that I'm the best cornerback on the team). I'm not really one to get into politics and all that. Stuff like that starts rumors and it tries to separate you from your teammates. It's not about ‘oh I'm better than my teammates.'

"I'm not a poster boy I'm just ‘Peanut.' I am no better than anyone else on this team, I'm not above the law."

Preparation is something that Tillman worked on in the off-season. By watching film on the top cornerbacks in the game the second-year cornerback can learn their traits. He's also studying opposing receivers to be able to jump on routes.

"You have to know your competition," Tillman said. "If it's third down and his favorite route on third down is a slant (you have to know that.) Regardless of what is called sometimes a corner (just has to go with instinct). We're not robots out there. They'll call a play and we react, but some of it's just instinct. Just having a knack for what's going to happen or what's about to happen."

Lovie Smith's attacking style defense should give the secondary opportunities to come up the ball. While the change in philosophy is a lot for the defense to take in, the fact that Vance Bedford was retained as the secondary coach is a comfort.

Putting consistent pressure on the quarterback is something the Bears didn't do a year ago producing just 18 sacks. Forcing quick throws will give Tillman Company a chance to come up with big plays.

"I think this defense let's us showcase our talent," Tillman said. "I'm looking forward to this season. I'm excited that he's (Lovie Smith) here and I'm excited about what he has to bring."

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