By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) For the second straight year, we are counting down to training camp by acknowledging the 10 most important Bears for the upcoming season.
To determine the list, a panel of 14 670 The Score hosts, reporters and producers submitted their top 10 players in terms of how important they will be in determining the success or failure of the 2013 Chicago Bears. We compiled the rankings into one master list and will release the 10 Most Important Bears over the next 10 weekdays.
No. 10 Charles Tillman
The Bears cornerback didn’t make this list going into the 2012 season, but he turned out of be one of the team’s most valuable players after forcing 10 fumbles, intercepting three passes and scoring three touchdowns (the same amount as Earl Bennett and Devin Hester combined).
At 6-2, 198, Tillman is the Bears’ biggest cornerback and usually draws tough assignments against some of the NFL’s best wide receivers. Last year was somewhat of a resurgent year for him as some figured his production would slide in his 10th NFL season. Now at 32 years old, those questions remain, but expectations for 2013 are nonetheless higher. Tillman is entering the last year of his current deal with the Bears and as the team shifts to a more offensive focus, the defense will be relying on their top cornerback more than ever.
How Tillman’s season plays out will be one of the more interesting storylines for the Bears this year. He was a member of the Bears during the entire Lovie Smith era and obviously wasn’t happy when his former head coach was let go. But Tillman is also a true professional and understands the nature of the business. He, Lance Briggs and Julius Peppers will still be leading a defense that has the potential to be dominant. A small step backward wouldn’t be surprising with Smith — and Brian Urlacher — now gone, but new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is adapting to the personnel he is inheriting to keep much of the concepts the same. Urlacher may not have been the same player he used to be, but his leadership on the field will be missed. It’s imperative for the veterans on the unit, like Tillman, to remain invested and pick up the slack.
Tillman hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down or a desire to retire, so it will be interesting to see if he remains a Bear after this season. There was speculation the team would try to work out an extension with him in the offseason to lower his cap hit, but that hasn’t happened as of yet.
Tillman will arrive to Bourbonnais knowing this is an important year for him and that’s good news for the Bears, because they need their best cornerback playing at a high level to maintain their defensive prominence.
The 10 Most Important Bears Panel: Dan Hampton, Hub Arkush, Zach Zaidman, Laurence Holmes, Matt Spiegel, Adam Hoge, Matt Abbatacola, Ben Finfer, Nick Shepkowski, Herb Lawrence, Joe Ostrowski, Chris Tannehill, Adam Harris and Dan Durkin.