The defense produced four of the club's five Pro Bowlers, with receiver Brandon Marshall being the only Bears representative on the NFC team from the offense. Defensive tackle Henry Melton and Jennings earned their first trips to Pro Bowl. Tillman, meanwhile, earned Pro Bowl recognition for the second consecutive season after receiving the nod in 2011 for the first time of his then nine-year career. Defensive end Julius Peppers receives the honor for the eighth time in his career, and the fifth year in a row.
"It's just an awesome feeling," Melton said. "I was just talking to Pep (Peppers), and said, 'Are we gonna be roommates (in Hawaii)? He said he didn't want to be my roommate."
A fourth-year veteran, Melton is tied for third in the NFL for sacks by defensive tackles (six). Since 2011, however, Melton has registered 13 sacks, which ranks as the second most among NFL defensive tackles and the most by a Bear playing that position over a two-season span since Tommie Harris produced 13 sacks in 2006 and 2007. Harris was named to the Pro Bowl in both those seasons.
A former college running back who started his Bears career at defensive end before switching to defensive tackle prior to the 2011 season, Melton acknowledged "there are a lot of people that had a hand in helping me," and "I do appreciate it."
"It's been a long journey from playing running back to defensive end and now being a Pro Bowl defensive tackle," Melton said.
Interestingly, linebacker Lance Briggs missed making the Pro Bowl for the first time since 2004. Last season, Briggs became the ninth player in franchise history to be voted into seven straight Pro Bowls, and the fourth Bears linebacker to accomplish the feat, joining Hall of Fame players at the position in Dick Butkus, Bill George and Mike Singletary.
Jennings, meanwhile, considers the opportunity to line up opposite Tillman as one of the NFC's starting cornerbacks in the Pro Bowl "one of the special moments."
"He's done a lot for me while I've been here," Jennings said. "His work ethic that I see him put into it, I just kind of take all of that because I don't want to let any of these guys down, these future Hall of Fame guys like Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs (and) Charles Tillman. Just to be a part of what he's doing today, and finally getting recognized (by) going to the Pro Bowl two times in a row, it's a huge accomplishment."
Tillman forced a season- and career-high 10 fumbles over the first 15 games and picked off three passes, all returned for touchdowns. Since coming into the NFL in 2003, Tillman ranks among the top 10 in interceptions (33, which ranks No. 8), interception return yards (606, No. 7), interception return touchdowns (eight, which ties for No. 2) forced fumbles (39, No. 1), and pass breakups (124, tied for No. 6).
Jennings' first Pro Bowl comes as a pleasant surprise for the seven-year veteran, considering the struggles he endured in 2011. When Jennings became a free agent last offseason, there was uncertainty about whether the Bears wanted to bring him back.
Jennings spent the bulk of the offseason working to improve at catching the ball. Several potential interceptions in 2011 bounced off Jennings' hands.
"I felt like I was always in good position last year, but I just wasn't coming up with the takeaways that I should have. I was just really harping on trying to catch the ball (in the offseason), and just believing in what I see," Jennings said. "Some of the plays (in 2011), I hesitated trying to get to the route and getting to the football. So I just kind of went out there (and it was like) if I see it and I believe it, I'm just gonna take it."
Marshall makes the Pro Bowl for the fourth time over his seven-year career. With one game remaining, Marshall (1,446 yards) is responsible for 48.2 percent of all receiving yardage and 42 percent of the team's receptions (113).
Marshall ranks second in receptions and in receiving yards and is tied for third in touchdown receptions (11).
Since entering the league in 2006, Marshall ranks fourth in the NFL in receptions (607) and receiving yardage (7,713).