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Tillman beating ball carriers to the punch

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The yearly marveling over Charles Tillman's ability to knock balls loose manifested itself early this season, thanks to the fumble he caused Sunday in the Chicago Bears' 30-12 takedown of the Atlanta Falcons.

Tillman punched the ball out of the arms of Falcons running back Michael Turner in the first quarter, with Julius Peppers recovering for the Bears. The forced fumble marked Tillman’s 25th, which gives him the most since 2003 among NFL cornerbacks.

More importantly, the turnover set up the first touchdown of the game, Matt Forte's 56-yard touchdown reception.

Bears coach Lovie Smith admitted he’s never seen another player with such a knack for causing turnovers.

“I’ve been with Charles now [for] eight years of seeing him do that. We preach it, and every coach in the league knows how to teach taking the ball away,” Smith said. “But to see a guy do it over and over just says an awful lot about him. We’ve had more takeaways than any team in the league since 2004. When you’re players, you know our guys are going to try to strip the ball, but he does it. Once you see one guy doing it, guys catch on to it. We’re a young football team in a lot of ways. We want them to see and just keep looking at how Charles continues to get the ball out.”

Asked whether it’s technique, Smith said, “of course it’s technique. No one does it like he does.”

Is it simply talent?

“Well, I think it’s everything you’re going to ask,” Smith explained. “It’s technique. It’s God-given talent. It’s great hand-eye coordination. Give me a couple of other things [and I’ll] think that’s what it is.”

Linebacker Brian Urlacher gave a bit of a demonstration in trying to explain Tillman’s knack for knocking the ball out of opponents’ mitts.

“It’s unbelievable,” Urlacher said. “He does it all the time. He doesn’t even hit the ball hard. It’s like he barely hits it, and the ball comes out. He gets the right spot on the ball every time and it pops out. It’s always in the back of his mind. He’s very cognizant of doing it and he gets it done all the time.”

Tillman, meanwhile, wasn’t available for comment on Monday because the team gives the players the day off after a victory.

Since 2004, the Bears have forced 238 takeaways, and Tillman has played a role in at least 19.7 percent of them in that span by way of interceptions (23) and forced fumbles (25).

Overall, he’s picked off 27 passes, forced 25 fumbles, and recovered four more.