LAKE FOREST, Ill. – As if Calvin Johnson didn't pose enough problems, Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman is facing another hurdle as the Chicago Bears prepare for the Detroit Lions — a groin issue.
The star cornerback's health is a concern for a team that's suddenly banged up after staying relatively healthy through the first two games.
Tillman said he will play against Detroit after leaving last week's win at Pittsburgh because of tightness in his groin. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Steelers, and the NFC North-leading Bears (3-0) are hobbling a bit heading into Sunday's game at Detroit.
The most immediate concern is Tillman, who would figure to be tasked with containing Johnson much of the time. The Bears actually had success against Megatron in recent years, but if their two-time Pro Bowl cornerback is limited or unavailable, they could be in for a rough time even with Lions receiver Nate Burleson recovering from surgery on a broken arm this week.
"The guys that we have available for this game will play," defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. "We'll play our defense. We'll work hard to execute, play fast, smart and physical and we'll play the game."
Tillman vowed he will be playing.
Asked if there's any chance he does not play against the Lions, he said, "No, I'll be there."
He missed practices last week because of knee soreness and left the Steelers game after his groin tightened up. He did not practice on Wednesday, and coach Marc Trestman said he's day to day.
"He didn't work today," Trestman said. "He was on the side and in the training room. He was in early this morning."
If Tillman is limited or even unavailable, that would likely mean a bigger role for Zack Bowman. It would also probably come as a bit of a relief for Johnson.
Few teams have been as successful in containing the Lions' star as the Bears, and a big reason for that is the 6-foot-2 Tillman.
"He's a big strong physical corner," Johnson said. "He's smart. He's seen a lot of football, so he understands some of the concepts probably that we do on offense, so we've got to throw different things at him to get him off balance."
And he's given Johnson fits, particularly of late.
Tillman has seven pass defenses and an interception in his last three games against the Lions — all wins for Chicago. And Johnson hasn't finished with more than 81 yards or caught a touchdown during that stretch. He had just three catches for 34 yards at Soldier Field last October and in the season-finale, he finished with five receptions for 72 yards. That gave him 1,964 yards and left him just short of becoming the first player with 2,000 receiving in a season.
Only twice in 11 games against Chicago has Johnson hit the 100-yard mark.
"I have a great defensive line," Tillman said. "A lot of the plays I'm able to make on Calvin have been because of my defensive line. If you take them out of the mix, I can't do anything. It's a team effort, rush and cover. I cover their rush and they definitely help me out a lot. They make my job a lot easier."
That line has actually struggled this year, and it just lost a key piece, even if Melton was off to a slow start.
Coming off a Pro Bowl season, he suffered a concussion on the first play of preseason and did not return until the start of the regular season. That might help explain why he had no sacks after recording six a year ago, third most by a defensive tackle in the NFL.
Then, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee against Pittsburgh, bringing his season to an end.
Nate Collins figures to start in his place, and Zach Minter, an undrafted free agent from Montana State, could get playing time.
"You've got to make sure you're aware of what your assignments are on twists and different kinds of coordinated rushes that we have," Trestman said. "So that's critically important. Nate's done that. He's been in there since the OTAs. He's familiar with what we're trying to accomplish and he's an active player. He's got a high motor, he moves around well and we expect he'll do well."
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