Charles Tillman will be placed on the physically unable to perform list Friday at training camp when he fails his physical.
That makes the focus for the Bears during three weeks at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., finding a contingency plan in the event Tillman has not recovered from back surgery in time for the Sept. 13 season opener at Green Bay.
Tillman underwent surgery performed by Dr. Robert Watkins two weeks ago in Los Angeles. He was given a timetable of six to 12 weeks for a return to the field. Six weeks would put Tillman back on the field right around the final preseason game Sept. 3 vs. Cleveland, but teams are so hesitant to use starters in those games that it might be surprising to see him on the field then. The outside range for a return would mean Tillman would miss at least the first three regular-season games. He'll have to be removed from the PUP list before the Sept. 5 roster cutdown to 53 or else he would wind up missing a minimum of six weeks of the regular season. The Bears don't anticipate that happening, but then again they didn't think he'd be hobbled with a back issue after undergoing reconstructive shoulder surgery on Jan. 14.
In fact, it's the third ailment Tillman has dealt with since playing the bulk of last season with injuries to both shoulders. He was cleared for a return from shoulder surgery in June but then was forced to deal with a hyperextended knee. This turns the team's hope that Nathan Vasher returns to form at right cornerback into a need. Zack Bowman got plenty of reps at left corner with Tillman sidelined during the spring. He performed well but that was without pads on. The fifth-round pick from 2008 appeared in one game last season before a torn biceps muscle ended his season.
Corey Graham's brief foray into the mix at free safety will end and he is expected to be back at cornerback. Trumaine McBride and rookie fourth-round pick D.J. Moore are on the depth chart. No one has the experience of Tillman, and right now it's impossible to say anyone has the upside of Tillman when he's healthy. Now you have to wonder if the Bears knew issues were lurking when they brought in veterans Ken Lucas and Rod Hood for free-agent visits this offseason. Neither player was offered a contract. Either one would look pretty good as insurance right now.