22 Starters in 22 Days: Charles Tillman

For as much criticism as Charles Tillman received in 2005, the cornerback produced a career-high in interceptions. However, a lack of consistency in his game also led to him being burned on a number of occasions.

After three years in the league, there is a case to be made that Tillman has taken a step back since his rookie campaign. He picked off four passes in 2003, including a game saving interception against Randy Moss that made many think he was a potential shutdown cornerback.

Injuries limited Tillman to eight games in 2004, as he failed to come up with an interception.

Despite tying for the team lead in 2005 with 18 pass break-ups and finishing second with five interceptions, Tillman became the weak link at times in the secondary. He had streaks where he seemingly gave up the deep ball on a weekly basis.

The six-foot-1, 196-pounder can be physical with any receiver in the game, but his size also allows him to get out of position. He has a tendency to let his fundamentals break down and as a result will give up big plays.

"Charles Tillman is a prototype corner," said new defensive backs coach Steven Wilks. "Charles has to be a little bit more disciplined in his technique and those are the things that we're talking about, but he possesses everything I want in a corner."

Smaller faster receivers create match-up problems for Tillman. Carolina Panthers WR Steve Smith torched the entire Chicago secondary in the playoff loss, but it started with Tillman falling to the ground on the second play of the game. The five-foot-9 receiver also took a jump ball out Tillman's hands later in the contest.

Confidence is a huge part of a cornerback's game and Tillman clearly doubted himself at points of last season. The Bears signed Ricky Manning to a five-year $21 million deal with the idea of him being a solid nickel back who could also push Tillman.

At this point, it's Tillman's job to lose but he has to show he can play mistake free. He's been solid in run support because of his large frame. He broke the century mark in tackles last season with 104.

Tillman and fellow starter Nathan Vasher are both due to become unrestricted free agents at the end of 2007. It will be difficult to pay both of them, especially with the money Manning received.

Vasher has gone to the Pro Bowl and will be more expensive to keep. If Tillman can prove he's dependable, he may be a more realistic long-term option for financial reasons.


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