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LAKE FOREST, Ill. – With two late interceptions, Kyle Fuller showed his athleticism and instincts.
If this is a sign of things to come, the Chicago Bears will take it.
The rookie cornerback made a big impression by picking off Colin Kaepernick twice to help the Bears rally from a 17-point deficit in a 28-20 victory at San Francisco on Sunday night.
"I'm definitely trying to enjoy that, but at the same time I'm starting to get my mind ready to get ready for next week," Fuller said.
Now, he's stepping into a bigger role. With the Bears losing veteran Charles Tillman to a torn right triceps for the second straight year, Fuller is likely to get the call when Chicago visits the New York Jets on Monday night.
This isn't exactly the plan the Bears had in mind when they took Fuller with the 14th pick in the draft. They will be leaning on him sooner with Tillman out.
The two-time Pro Bowl cornerback came up clutching his arm in pain in the third quarter against the 49ers after he got tangled with Michael Crabtree during a run along the sideline by Kaepernick.
That put Tillman's future as a Bear not to mention his career in question given his age (33) and expiring contract.
It also put Fuller on a faster track, and he delivered in a big way, with interceptions on back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter.
He set up the go-ahead touchdown when he swatted the ball from Crabtree and managed to secure the ball against his stomach before returning the interception to the San Francisco 6.
Kaepernick got called for unsportsmanlike conduct for using "inappropriate language" on that play, and Jay Cutler connected with Martellus Bennett on a 3-yard scoring pass.
On the next drive, Fuller dropped off coverage on Crabtree to pick off a deeper pass to tight end Derek Carrier for his second interception, and the Bears came away with the win after a brutal loss to Buffalo at home in the opener.
"What a game Kyle had," guard Kyle Long said. "I can't speak to his talent and his work ethic and his playmaking ability enough."
Fuller was something of an eye-opening pick when the Bears drafted him out of Virginia Tech. They had openings for two starting safeties, but general manager Phil Emery opted for a cornerback, instead.
He was impressed by Fuller's strength and speed and saw him as a potential contributor this season behind Tillman and Tim Jennings.
Against the 49ers, he came up big.
While Fuller was making plays, his three brothers were texting back and forth. Fuller's phone was jammed with messages after the game, and he called his siblings before he left the stadium.
Two have played in the NFL, with his brother Corey a receiver for the Detroit Lions. Another brother, Kendall, is a defensive back for Virginia Tech.
"Two of them were probably half-asleep," Kyle Fuller said. "It's always good to talk to those guys and really just enjoy it with them as well."
There was plenty for them to enjoy. The question is whether Fuller can fill in for Tillman.
As impressive as the rookie was, that still is a big loss for the Bears. Tillman said in a statement that this "isn't the end of the road" for him and vowed to be at Halas Hall, supporting his teammates.
Fuller said he has learned quite a bit from Tillman, and coach Marc Trestman expects the mentoring to continue. He saw it throughout camp. When secondary coach Jon Hoke was occupied, Trestman said Tillman "was always there and is always there" to help.
"This building will be open to him to help us in any way that he would like to do that," Trestman said. "That will be up to him on how much involvement he would like to have."
Notes: Trestman said he was prepared to go without Pro Bowl receivers Brandon Marshall (ankle) and Alshon Jeffery (hamstring) against the 49ers, but they were "pretty much at full speed" in pregame warmups. He added that Jeffery was less than 100 percent during the game but experienced no setbacks. ... Trestman said he is "hopeful" that S Chris Conte's left shoulder injury is not serious but will know more in the next few days. The same goes for DT Jeremiah Ratliff (concussion).
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