LAKE FOREST, Ill. – If Charles Tillman's track record is an indicator, the veteran cornerback will be in the starting line-up Sunday at Detroit.
However, the great unknown is how Tillman’s body will hold up over the course of a game defending Detroit Lions All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson, a test Tillman has passed with flying colors in the past.
Tillman was held out of practice on Wednesday after a groin injury forced him to the sidelines in the second half of the Bears’ 40-23 Week 3 victory in Pittsburgh. The next man up for the Bears at cornerback is veteran Zack Bowman, who filled in for Tillman versus the Steelers and took most of the first-team reps at practice on Wednesday - despite being limited himself with a minor knee injury.
In the event Tillman needs a rest on Sunday, Bowman is the logical choice to defend Johnson because of his size, speed, athleticism and experience. Bowman was given the assignment of covering Johnson in Week 1 of the 2010 season when the Bears knocked of the Lions at Soldier Field. Johnson finished that game with four catches for 45 yards, although he almost caught the game-winning touchdown over Bowman in the back corner of the endzone, but the pass was ultimately ruled incomplete.
“Johnson is one of the biggest receivers in the league and one of the most physical,” Bowman said. “He really knows how to use his hands, get off the line of scrimmage and knows how to get open. I’ve faced him. We’ve all faced him, so we know that to expect.
There’s no trick against him. He’s not going to trick you. What you see is what you get. He’s just going to line up and play ball.”
Johnson has 17 receptions for 268 yards and three touchdowns for the Lions.
A former starter with seven career interceptions, Bowman has been slowly working his way back into a contributing role on defense after re-joining the Bears in October, 2012. Bowman’s main focus for the last year has been special teams, where he made a career-high 11 tackles in only 11 games. But with Tillman sitting out practice the majority of last week, Bowman received valuable first-team reps on defense. The same routine is expected to be followed this week leading up to the trip to Detroit.
“It really helps getting these reps,” Bowman said. “You know, I focus a lot of special team and stuff like that, so when you have an opportunity to get out on the field and get your feet wet it just helps you.”