Tillman hoped to build on his initial success heading into 2004. He had locked up a starting job before reporting to training camp and looked to cement his reputation as an emerging shutdown cornerback.
However, in the second game of the season Tillman collided with Brian Urlacher in the final minutes of the Bears 21-10 victory over the Packers. He suffered a fracture of the tibial plateau, which would keep him out for the next eight games.
The only positive Tillman took from the situation came from GM Jerry Angelo.
"I was in the training room getting treatment one day during rehab and he was like, ‘well the one thing about being injured is you add a year to the league.' I wouldn't call it a bonus year or anything like that, but it gives you time for all your old injuries to heal," Tillman said.
Tillman started five of six games upon his return, but failed to intercept a pass during the season. He couldn't run as much as he would have liked to in more than two months of rehab, which hurt his conditioning. His footwork also suffered, a vital component for a cornerback trying to keep up with a receiver.
Tillman is healthy and learning new tricks thanks to one of the off-season additions on offense.
"With them bringing Moose (Muhsin Muhammad) in as a free agent, he's done nothing but help this ball club and me personally because I match up against him (every day in practice)," Tillman said. "I'm learning what I can do to make myself a better corner in this league."
Muhammad has been successful in the league even though he doesn't have blazing speed. He has relied on precise route running and being able to use his body in order to beat opposing cornerbacks. The lessons of the two-time Pro Bowl wideout is teaching Tillman a whole new level of discipline.
"He's good enough to where if you mess up just an inch he's got the edge on you," Tillman said. "So he's taught me just to stay on my Ps and Qs at all times. Use what I have to my advantage, use my height, use my long arms."
While Tillman admits it was fun to go up against Moss, he realizes there is a trio of receivers in Detroit that will present a new challenge.
"I'm eager to see the Detroit Lions this year, see how those games go," he said.
Now Tillman has a goal of going to the Pro Bowl. What it will take for him to make it to Hawaii is up for debate.
"It's really not for me to say because I could say if I get four interceptions I could be a good corner, but that's just anyone's opinion," Tillman said. "I think that's up to the analysts and all the reporters to stay if he gets six interceptions or he's a Pro Bowl corner."