By Jeff Joniak-
(CBS) It’s telling that before being named NFC defensive player of the week in consecutive games for his performance against Jacksonville and Detroit, Charles Tillman had not been recognized for his work since 2005.
After piling up interceptions, forcing fumbles, and setting franchise records for defensive touchdowns, Tillman is now being called by at least one football website the “best cornerback in the NFL.”
Ask teammates and they will tell he’s been one of the best for many seasons.
Tillman was named to his first Pro Bowl in 2011, when he was the most targeted cornerback in the NFL. Quarterbacks were not picking on Tillman. He was defending their best receiver every week. The Bears defense also stopped the run enough that teams threw on them more often than any team but the Packers.
According to Stats Inc. LLC, Tillman was targeted on 117 pass attempts, but gave up only one touchdown.
This season, quarterbacks are staying away from Tillman, throwing his way only 30 times in six games, none for touchdowns.
Bears head coach Lovie Smith said Tillman essentially put together an instructional tape full of proper technique, toughness, and instincts during Monday’s win over the Lions. With help from a relentless pass rush, he erased Pro Bowl receiver Calvin Johnson from the equation.
His defense of Johnson on a fade route in the end zone was textbook.
It’s something Tillman has been doing since his 2003 rookie season, when his length, physicality, and ball skills frustrated former Minnesota Vikings star Randy Moss.
Tillman is elite in terms of what he does to impact the game. He’s an expert at “punching” the ball out and forcing 32 fumbles, one for a touchdown. He’s put himself in position to intercept 32 balls and turn them into seven touchdowns.
He’s the king of thieves.
In addition, he tackles. Among defensive players since 2003, he’s in the NFL’s top 20 according to Stats Inc. LLC a group that includes Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, and only three cornerbacks. Tampa’s Ronde Barber, Minnesota’s Antoine Winfield, and Tillman.
A decade into his career and 31 years of age, Tillman is at the top of his game.
He is, because he’s professional.
Monday night was not unusual. Cornerbacks have to be ready on the first play of the game. There is no time to ease into it. Four hours or so before kickoff, he started his routine, getting his mind and body right in what turned out to be arguably his signature performance in a Bears uniform.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play voice of the Chicago Bears on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. You can follow Jeff on Twitter @JeffJoniak.