With no disrespect to Mike Brown, Tillman is unquestionably the key member of the secondary. A year ago he started 13 games as a rookie and tied for the team lead with four interceptions. His play earned him the respect of his teammates and many around the league consider him to be a star in the making.
While Tillman is thinking Pro Bowl, the defense will have to count on the front-four to put pressure on the quarterback, thus taking some off the secondary.
"We can play corner and safety really with a great pass rush. And that's what we have to get," Smith said. "We didn't get a great pass rush the other day and that's something we'll continue to work on."
Backed into the corner: The Bears don't expect Jerry Azumah back until at least midseason and currently have two other cornerbacks out with injuries. Last week Josh Minkins injured his knee and Brock Williams sprained an ankle.
"We still feel like we have a good nucleus of players back there," Smith said. "We'll miss, especially, Jerry Azumah. A Pro Bowler is not in the group but that's the hand we've been dealt and we've moved on."
Looking to add depth in the secondary the Bears signed CB Eric Kelly, who was a third-round pick by the Minnesota Vikings in 2001 out of the Kentucky, Sunday. The Houston Texans claimed him off waivers on July 28th after being cut by the Vikings in June and cut him shortly after. The five-foot-10, 201 pounder started 23 games in his first two years in the league, but saw his role diminish last year as he tallied just five tackles. The 27-year-old has three career interceptions, 143 tackles and nine passes defensed.
Tillman, McQuarters, McMillon and Vasher are locks to make the team with Azumah out. Kelly could push Williams for the final cornerback spot.
Back in action: WR Justin Gage, RB Adrian Peterson and SS Bobby Gray returned to practice Sunday after both missing time because of hamstring pulls. It's unclear at this time if either will play in the preseason opener at St. Louis on Thursday. S Mike Brown, WR Marty Booker and RB Thomas Jones all sat out of the Bears scrimmage with the Rams on Saturday, but practiced Sunday.
Looking Ahead: The Bears don't have to make their first roster cut until Aug. 31, but that doesn't mean the coaching staff isn't thinking ahead.
"Every day, really," Smith said of how often he thinks about who will make the team. "You have a 53 in mind when you initially come to camp. And each day though it can change. Jerry and I work a lot of different combinations that we can possibly end up with. We'll know a little bit more every time we put them in a game-type situation."