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Tillman leading the way for Bears' potent defense

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Tillman leading the way for Bears' potent defense

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) Charles Tillman was asleep when President Obama gave him a big shout out on ESPN.

It's one of the few times he wasn't locked in.

The star cornerback has been turning heads everywhere with his play, even at the White House, and so have his teammates on the Chicago Bears' defense.

A group that came into the season with some question marks is supplying plenty of answers and leading the way for a team that's 7-1 heading into Sunday's showdown with the Houston Texans.

A big part of that is Tillman, the guy Obama touted for defensive player of the year during an interview aired Monday night.

The praise came on the heels of Tillman forcing four fumbles in a 51-20 blowout of Tennessee the previous day.

``It was a great honor. I was actually asleep when he did the interview. I go to bed early - four kids,'' said Tillman, whose wife is expected to give birth to their fourth child in the next few days. ``I was asleep, but I had a bunch of text messages that morning when I woke up. I definitely thought it was cool to get mentioned from our Commander-in-Chief. Thanks for the shout out.''

It's even better in a season like this.

The Bears lead the NFC North, and the defense is a big reason why. Few teams have been as dominant in that area, Houston being an exception, and the way they're shutting down opponents is raising eyebrows.

A defensive line that was widely considered a weakness even with Julius Peppers is getting contributions from all over, and the Bears are tied for third in the NFL with 25 sacks. Eight more and they match last season's total.

But it's not just the pressure they're getting; it's the takeaways they're creating.

No defense has been more relentless. Chicago leads the league in takeaways (28) and turnover differential (plus 16), and their seven defensive touchdowns tied the 1942 team's record. All have come on interception returns, which puts them third on the NFL's single season list behind the 1998 Seattle Seahawks (eight) and 1961 San Diego Chargers (nine).

``To have 28 in eight games is incredible,'' Houston offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said. ``Some teams wish for that in two years, so they're always looking to get the ball. It all starts up front. They do a great job of pressuring and making sure you rush and putting your offensive linemen on an island at times from what they do. They work very hard at it and they're good at it.''

Takeaways have been a hallmark of the Bears' defense ever since coach Lovie Smith took over in 2004. They lead the league with 294 during that span and are second in interceptions (174) and fumble recoveries (120), but what's happening this season is nothing short of extreme.

Brian Urlacher said he hasn't seen anything like it.

``At any given time on Sunday, anyone on this defense can score,'' he said. ``We didn't have that back in the day.''

Then, there's Tillman, who finally made the Pro Bowl last season and is raising more eyebrows this year, whether he's picking the ball off or punching it out of opponents' arms.

In his 10th season, he leads the league with seven forced fumbles, and he made history with Lance Briggs earlier in the year when they became the first pair of teammates to return interceptions for touchdowns in back-to-back weeks.

For a guy who was overshadowed for most of his career, he sure is getting plenty of attention these days.

``He should've been getting it for the past 10 years,'' Briggs said. ``He's played at a high level. He's an elite player and has always played at a high level. Now, in Year 10, he's taken it up to another level. He's a defensive-player-of-the-year type player. He's a core, he's a leader and he's one of our best players.''

And he's going strong in his 30s, just like Briggs and Peppers. Urlacher's had a rough time recovering from a knee injury, but he's also coming off his best game after returning an interception for a touchdown, forcing a fumble and recovering one in last week's blowout win at Tennessee.

It was another good sign for a defense that's been, well, looking good.

``The chemistry on this group is special,'' defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. ``Guys are coachable. A big part of anything you do, you've got willing men, coachable, and we have a lot of fun.''

NOTES: WR Alshon Jeffery (hand), DT Matt Toeaina (calf) and Urlacher (coach's decision) did not practice Thursday. ... DE Israel Idonije (ankle) and DT Henry Melton (back) were full participants after being limited the previous day.

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Roster competition, Brown vs. Pryor

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Roster competition, Brown vs. Pryor

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, June 23, 33 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The Redskins week that was

A look at some of the most popular posts and hottest topics of the week on Real Redskins  and NBC Sports Washington.

Post-minicamp Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense—NFL coaches and others like to tell you that competition determines who wins roster spots in the league. And that may be true to an extent. But many roster spots are predetermined by a player’s contract situation and/or draft status. It is unlikely that an undrafted player like Fish Smithson will win a roster spot over Troy Apke even if the former outperforms the latter in every way during training camp. Apke was a fourth-round pick and they aren’t going to give up on him in favor of an undrafted player. It would cost $3.2 million in dead cap to cut Stacy McGee and only $150,000 to move on from Ziggy Hood so McGee will win a “competition” that is even remotely close. (Offensive projection here)

Redskins will 'have it out' for Terrelle Pryor at training camp—While this is something that could add a little spice to the Jets’ visit to Richmond, don’t look for much of anything to happen. Zach Brown might give a little extra shove to Pryor here and there but he’s not going to do anything that will draw blood or even cause a deep bruise. If nothing else, a big hit on Pryor would invite retaliation by the Jets on Josh Doctson or Paul Richardson. And that might lead to more retaliation and you end up with a brawl like the Redskins and Texans had a couple of years ago.

Trent Williams very much of approves of Smith and Guice—Williams is going into his ninth NFL season and he has yet to be on the winning side of a playoff game. He thinks that Alex Smith and Derrius Guice can help change that. 

The curious case of Alex Smith and the NFL Top 100 list—I normally greet this list with a big yawn and this year was no exception. But I do find the omission of Smith, who led the NFL in passer rating and was third in adjusted net yards per attempt, odd. In an update to this post, the NFL released the names of the top 10 players and Smith is not on it. He shouldn’t be, but he should be somewhere on the 100, perhaps in the middle of the pack. The only Redskins player to appear on the list was Trent Williams at No. 57.

The Redskins' best players who are 25 or younger—It’s likely that nine players who are 25 or younger will line up as starters for the Redskins this year. I don’t have a rundown of how that compares to the rest of the league but it’s notable that in the last two years six of them have replaced players who were either approaching age 30 or over it. I’ll engage in some speculation here and say that five of the young players—Daron Payne, Derrius Guice, Preston Smith, Jonathan Allen, and Montae Nicholson—are good enough to potentially make a Pro Bowl at some point in their careers. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline 

Former Redskins defensive tackle Dave Butz was born on this date in 1950. 

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 33
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 47
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 70

The Redskins last played a game 174 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 78 days. 

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GM Brian MacLellan: Capitals are close to re-signing John Carlson

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GM Brian MacLellan: Capitals are close to re-signing John Carlson

DALLAS—The Caps are “really close” to signing star defenseman John Carlson to a long-term extension, GM Brian MacLellan said Friday night.

“We’re getting closer,” MacLellan said following the first round of the NHL Draft. “Hopefully we can get it done here over the next few days. We’re really close.”

Earlier in the day, the Caps cleared significant space under the salary cap ceiling by trading Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik to Colorado for a second round draft pick (47th overall). 

That space will now be used to lock up Carlson, who could become the best defenseman on the open market if he were to reach it.

MacLellan met with Carlson’s agent, Rick Curran, here on Thursday night.

MacLellan did not divulge any figures, but it’s expected that Carlson’s new contract could come in at eight years and $8 million per—or perhaps a bit more. 

He earned $4 million last season.

Carlson had a career year in 2017-18 and was critical during the Caps' run to the Stanley Cup. He led all defensemen in the regular season with 68 points (15 goals, 53 assists). The 28-year-old also skated a career-high 24:47 per game.

MacLellan has long said that re-signing Carlson was the Caps’ top priority this offseason. And now it looks like that could happen within days, assuming the talks do not hit any snags.

“We’re going to do our best to sign John,” MacLellan said. “We’ve said it all along. We waited until the end of the year. We’ve had discussions. We’re close and hopefully we can close the deal here over the next 24 hours.”

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