Auditioning for 2008 Already

Like it or not, Bears fans, there's almost no way that both Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher will be wearing Bears uniforms past this season. With the terrific tandem eligible for free agency after 2007, the salary cap will make it next to impossible to keep both of them in Chicago for the long term. Do rookies Trumaine McBride, Tim Mixon, and Greg Fassitt have what it takes?

Nathan Vasher has his hands full looking after the Bears' new crop of rookie cornerbacks. But it's a responsibility that he seems to relish and views as a payback of sorts.

"I talk to those guys, and I see myself not that many years ago coming into Halas Hall with a dazzled look in my eyes," Vasher said after OTAs in Lake Forest on Monday. "They are somewhat confused and uncertain what their roles might be, so I'm trying to help them settle down some. That's the only way they can relax and learn the system."

For Vasher, it's a role reminiscent of his first year with the team when Jerry Azumah became his mentor.

"I came into mini camp with two points of view," Vasher said. "On one hand, I'd been a star in college, and I was somewhat full of myself because of that. On the other hand, I knew nothing about playing in the pros, and I must admit that I was pretty intimidated by the entire prospect. Jerry worked with me one-on-one out on the field and in the classroom. We developed good communication that helped me transition from the college game into the NFL."

Trumaine McBride, a seventh-round rookie out of Ole Miss, could easily relate to Vasher's previous experience.

"That makes sense to me," McBride said. "I was a big man on campus in a school where football was very important. Now I'm here in Chicago where nobody has ever heard of me. It's somewhat of a shock. I see it as my responsibility to learn the system as quickly as I can, then be able to contribute to the team by the end of training camp. For that goal, guidance from some of the veterans makes all of the difference."

So far, McBride's mentors have been both Vasher and Ricky Manning Jr.

"When I have questions, they are there for me," McBride said. "It's making me comfortable and helping my learning curve because I feel somebody is looking out for me. I'm not so tense about everything."

With contracts coming up in the next year for several veterans in the secondary, could some of the rookies already be looking for a starting spot a year from now?

"Starting? That's way down the line [and] far too premature to think about," said Tim Mixon, an undrafted rookie out of Cal. "At this point, I'm just so happy to be playing again. All that I am worried about is making this team and finding my place. Any concerns or aspirations about starting at cornerback will have to wait until well into the coming season.

Mixon was sidelined for most of his senior season with a torn ACL and is glad to be back on the field.

"I worked very hard the past year on my conditioning, so in that sense I haven't lost anything," he said. "But, of course, coming to the Bears means I have a whole new system to become familiar with. I'm taking things one day at a time, working on the playbook and going through the drills. I think success at this level is all about the time you are willing to put in. I'm watching the veterans and doing what they do. That often means coming early to practice and staying late. It's certainly made them successful, and I hope I can accomplish the same thing."

Rookie Greg Fassitt of Grambling has been watching Charles Tillman from the sidelines whenever possible and thinks that is helping him with technique.

"I used to see him when the Bears games were on television," said Fassitt. "Now that I'm here, why not learn from one of the top guys in this league? If I can get to the point where I am as accomplished as Peanut, then I'll be happy."

When asked where he hopes to be by this time next year, Fassitt seemed both determined and realistic.

"It's up to me to show the team and the coaches what I can do and where I fit into the Bears system," he said. "The cornerback spot is strong right now, but you never know what could happen in the future. There's a lot to learn, so that's where I'm concentrating. If I can make myself familiar with the plays in a short period of time, then I'll be able to progress to working on the finer points of technique. If things go well, I could have a shot at starting a year from now."

For Fassitt, production is what matters most whether a player is a rookie or a veteran.

"It isn't about what you say you are going to do but what you can actually accomplish," he said. "There are some pretty big shoes to fill in the secondary. I feel confident in my abilities but certainly not overconfident. I know I have a lot to learn, but this is a team where rookies have come in and have excelled. That's the role I am hoping I can fill."

Beth Gorr has been covering the Chicago Bears for the last six years and is the Author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.

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