Bears cornerback Charles Tillman was named NFC defensive player of the week for his performance against Calvin Johnson in the Bears 13-7 win over the Detroit Lions last Monday. It was his second win in the last three weeks, having received the same honor for his play in the Jacksonville game, when he returned an interception for a touchdown for the second straight week.
Tillman is a favorite to add the award for NFC defensive player of the month next week, with two weekly awards in the five October weekends.
But Tillman, who was overlooked in Pro Bowl considerations for his career until last season, is moving into rarified air. His work is expected to move him into the discussion for NFL defensive player of the year.
History and hype against him
Tillmans chances are modest at best. The play and accompanying hype of Houston Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt for his sacks and deflections make him the favorite at this juncture.
Indeed, only five players in the 40-year history of the DPOY award have been cornerbacks and three of those were on Super Bowl winners. Three of the four eligible were installed in the Hall of Fame and the fifth is headed there.
Mel Blount (1975) won as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Lester Hayes (1980) won a Super Bowl as an Oakland Raider. Rod Woodson (1993) didnt reach the Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers but he did and won with the Baltimore Ravens in 2000, after hed moved to safety, something Tillman and the Bears arent planning in Chicago just yet.
Deion Sanders (1994) played one year with the San Francisco 49ers but made it count for a Super Bowl.
The Woodson template
The Green Bay Packers didnt win the Super Bowl in 2009 with DPOY Charles Woodson but they and he were posting Bear-like numbers that season. And team performance is unquestionably key for the award.
The Packers ranked No. 2 in yardage allowed in 2009; the Bears currently are sixth in yardage but No. 1 in scoring defense. Green Bay had 30 interceptions; the Bears have 14 through six games.
The Packers led the league with 40 takeaways in Woodsons DPOY season; the Bears have 21 through six games.
Tillman needs more than his two interceptions, however. Woodson posted his career high of nine and returned three of them for touchdowns.
But Tillman already has had two pick-sixs. More important perhaps, he has done some of his finest work on the national stage.
Woodson won DPOW (weekly) for his play against the high-profile Dallas Cowboys. Tillman returned his first interception for a touchdown at Dallas, and did it on MNF.
Woodson won his second DPOW for his shutting down of Calvin Johnson, holding the Detroit wideout to two catches, one for a touchdown. In winning his own second DPOW, Tillman limited Johnson to three catches, none for a touchdown.
Woodson was savvy enough to do it to Johnson in a Thanksgiving Day game. Tillman doesnt play on Thanksgiving this year but he did do his work on Johnson on the MNF platform.
After the Bears games vs. Carolina and at Tennessee, the Bears play Houston in the Sunday night prime-timer on NBC (think the network can find a story line with Tillman and Watt in the same game?)
Then they are at San Francisco eight days later for another Monday Night session.
Nothing is ever really settled in six games. But Tillman already has played his way where no Bears cornerback has gone before.
A lots been said about this over-the-hill defense gang that we have, said coach Lovie Smith. I just know that last year Charles went to the Pro Bowl at that age and he had a career year. I just know hes a good football player right now.
Maybe even the NFLs best one on defense.