By Jeff Joniak-
(WBBM) Above all else Rod Marinelli is asking his defense to be physical. I mean old-school physical. He’s a man who studies the game and embraces its history. He is particularly moved by the “Monsters of the Midway” era Bears circa 1940’s.
In discussing the Bears defense the other day, he said, “You know when a defense is physical, when its corners tackle.” Given the NFL Films footage we’ve seen repeatedly over the years of Hall of Fame Bears’ defenders ripping the heads off running backs and quarterbacks, I was challenged by his statement.
When I think of a physical defense, I think of linebackers, pass rushers, and safeties playing with reckless abandon. Not cornerbacks. I think Dick Butkus. I think Doug Atkins. I think Dan Hampton. I think Gary Fencik. I think Doug Plank. You know what I mean?
Marinelli thinks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings.
That duo represents one of, if not the best tackling tandems in the game right now. Tillman in particular ranks in the NFL’s top twenty in total tackles since 2003. He’s one of only three cornerbacks in that ten-year period to make enough tackles to get on the list.
I asked Marinelli if he remembers a pair of tackling corners like his right now, and he went back to his Tampa Bay experience with Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly. He’s sure there must be a similar pair or two in NFL history. I thought of the old Raiders corners Mike Haynes and Lester Hayes, and Mel Blount and J.T. Thomas of the Steelers.
Making tackles creates other opportunities, and that’s where Tillman’s 32 forced fumbles come in. Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli demand defenders get to the ball, somehow, someway, and strip it when they arrive. If it’s on the ground, and you didn’t get it, it’s considered a loaf.
That happened Sunday against the Panthers, when Major Wright stripped Cam Newton at the goal line, but the Bears were unable to recover the ball.
Tillman followed Jennings in earning NFC defensive player of the month awards. Jennings owned September. Tillman owned October. To my knowledge, that’s an NFL first to open the season.
They are playing aggressively, making plays on the ball, and doing so with the confidence that safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte are protecting the back end, should their aggressiveness backfire. It’s a great mix of experience and youth in a secondary that through the first seven games of the season is playing at a premium level.
Some say it’s the best secondary in the league with the best pair of cornerbacks. Not even half way through the season, its high praise, but there’s a lot of ball left to be played.
However, they deserve the recognition right now.
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.