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Tillman among three finalists for Payton's award

The Sports Xchange

Ravens center Matt Birk, Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers and Bears cornerback Charles Tillman have been named the finalists for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award.

The winner will be announced in Indianapolis during a two-hour primetime award special scheduled to air Feb. 4 from 9-11 p.m. ET on NBC. Along with a Gladiator statue, the favorite charity of the winner will receive an additional $20,000 donation in his name.

The three finalists were chosen from a list of one player nominated from all 32 NFL teams.

--The Bears' re-signing of special teams coordinator Dave Toub on Tuesday is the best move they could make to ensure that their special teams will continue to be among the NFL's elite, as they have been since Toub arrived with head coach Lovie Smith in 2004.

Toub, 49, agreed to a two-year contract and, although terms were not announced, his deal is reportedly for just under $1 million per year, which will make him one of the NFL highest paid special-teams coordinators. It's a well-deserved reward for the mastermind of the Bears' third phase, which annually ranks among the league's best and has produced eight individual Pro Bowl berths in eight years.

Last week, Toub interviewed for the Miami Dolphins' vacant head-coaching position, but he has been informed that he is no longer a candidate for that job, as the Dolphins move into the next phase of their search.

As one of the NFL's most successful special teams coaches in each of his eight seasons with the Bears, Toub could have shopped himself around the league, since his previous contract had expired. But that was never his intention.

"I wouldn't want to coach special teams anywhere else," Toub told the team's website. "I think I let the Bears' organization know that. I'm just so fortunate to be able to have the opportunity to keep going here.

"Why would I want to go to another place and try to establish what we already have here? Lovie is great with, No. 1, letting me do my job, letting us do what we do with our special teams. He trusts us. I'm talking about (special teams assistant) Kevin O'Dea and myself. He gives us the tools that we need. Whether it's players, whether it's time, we get everything that we need here to be successful."

Smith has always placed a strong emphasis on special teams, allowing Toub to use many starters in at least one phase of special teams, either on return teams or coverage teams.

The Bears' special teams finished third overall in 2011 based on a comprehensive ranking system designed by Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News. Toub's units have ranked in the top third of the league for eight straight seasons, including No. 1 overall in 2006 and 2007 and in the top six in five of the last six seasons (fourth in 2010 and sixth in 2009).

Five different players have combined to make eight Pro Bowl appearances, including return specialists Devin Hester (three) and Johnny Knox (one), coverage aces Brendon Ayanbadejo (two) and Corey Graham (one), and kicker Robbie Gould (one).

Under Toub, the Bears have an NFL-best 22 kick return touchdowns compiled by six different players (Hester, Knox, Earl Bennett, Danieal Manning, Bobby Wade and R.W. McQuarters). That does not include two missed field goals returned for touchdowns (by Hester and Nate Vasher) or Hester's 92-yard kickoff return touchdown in Super Bowl XLI.

Also in 2011, punter Adam Podlesh and the Bears' punt-coverage unit set a franchise record with a 40.4 net punting average.

--It was less than two weeks ago that Mike Tice was promoted from his job as Bears offensive line coach to offensive coordinator, replacing Mike Martz.

Now Tice might be moving up again - but not with the Bears.

According to NFL sources on Tuesday, the Raiders have sought permission to interview the 52-year-old Tice for their head-coaching position left vacant by the firing of one-and-done Hue Jackson, who was canned after compiling an 8-8 record in his first season.

Per NFL rules, because the interview is for a head-coaching job, the Bears must allow Tice to talk with the Raiders, unlike last year when they denied the Tennessee Titans permission to talk with Tice about their offensive coordinator position. Earlier this week, the Bears also refused to allow the Minnesota Vikings to speak with defensive backs coach Jon Hoke about their defensive coordinator job.

Tice was the Vikings' head coach from the final game of the 2001 season through 2005, compiling a 33-34 record, including 1-1 in the postseason.

He joins a potentially large group of candidates that is being assembled in Oakland by new general manager Reggie McKenzie.

The Raiders have already interviewed former Dolphins interim head coach Todd Bowles and Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen are believed to be prospects. Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr., Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, defensive coordinator Dom Capers and linebackers coach/assistant head coach Winston Moss also have been mentioned as possible candidates.

--Bears DE Julius Peppers has officially been added to the NFC's 2012 Pro Bowl roster, replacing the Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul, who advanced to the Super Bowl. Peppers becomes the sixth Bears player to be named to the squad, joining LBs Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, CB Charles Tillman, RB Matt Forte and special-teamer Corey Graham.

For Peppers, it is his seventh career Pro Bowl appearance, and he becomes the first Bears defensive end to achieve the honor in back-to-back seasons since Hall of Famer Richard Dent did it in 1984-85.

Peppers finished the regular season with 27 tackles, 11 sacks, five tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He has totaled 100 sacks for his career, tying him for third most in the NFL since he joined the pro ranks in 2002, and his 36 forced fumbles are the fourth most in the league over that span.

--Former Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz is retiring after 19 seasons as an NFL coach.

Martz was not rehired after the 2011 regular season, following two up-and-down years as the Bears' offensive architect.

Martz was the St. Louis Rams' head coach for five seasons from 2000-05, and their offensive coordinator for a year before that, when his offense was dubbed "The Greatest Show on Turf" because of its explosiveness, especially in the passing game. That type of high-scoring attack was only evident occasionally in his two years with the Bears.

This year's offense took a nosedive after quarterback Jay Cutler suffered a season-ending fractured wrist on Nov. 20 and running back Matt Forte was lost two weeks later with a season-ending knee sprain.

The Bears' offense finished 24th in total yards, 26th in passing yards, 27th in third-down efficiency, 29th in interceptions and 31st in sacks allowed. Before Cutler was hurt, the Bears were 17th in total yards, 22nd in passing yards, 23rd in third-down efficiency, seventh in interceptions, and 19th in sacks.

--Among the Bears' 13 unrestricted free agents, Matt Forte has received the most attention, but he has the least chance of leaving.

Failing a long-term contract extension in the offseason, the Bears will slap the dreaded "franchise" tag on Forte, effectively keeping him from leaving. Because of a new formula set in last summer's collective bargaining agreement, the franchise number for running backs will be about $7.8 million this year, compared with $9.6 million in 2011.

If Forte signs with another team, that team must give the Bears two first-round draft picks. It's highly unlikely any team would give up that much in compensation, so Forte will be stuck in Chicago.

With a new general manager coming soon, Forte might have better luck getting the multiyear deal he's seeking, including $20 million in guaranteed money. The Bears' top offer included about $14 in guaranteed money.

Count on him getting franchised and holding out, at least through training camp.

--When wide receiver Roy Williams was brought in last year on a one-year deal, then-offensive coordinator Mike Martz predicted he might catch 70 passes. He probably did -- if you count practices. In game, Williams caught just 37 passes, although he finished strong with 10 catches for 141 yards in the final two games.

Williams signed last year for $2.46 million, and he certainly won't get any more than that from the Bears this time around.

"I've had a lot of ups and downs just like this football team," Williams said. "But just coming off the street, I think I played OK. I think these last two or three ballgames have just picked up, and I think my arrow is going up for this football team, and I just want to try to continue to help us win."

--Corey Graham made the Pro Bowl as a special teams coverage guy, but he wants a bigger role on defense, and he showed this season that he might deserve it. Filling in at nickel when D.J. Moore was injured, Graham had interceptions in three straight games in November. If the Bears won't at least give him a chance to win a regular job, he could bolt as an unrestricted free agent.

"It's very important," the five-year veteran said of playing time. "Obviously, when you're in this league, you want to play on defense. You want to play as much as possible. Hopefully I get a chance to play somewhere. I'm going to weigh my options and just see what happens."

In 2011, Tim Jennings started 15 games at cornerback and Zack Bowman one opposite Charles Tillman. Both Jennings and Bowman are free agents, and both were benched at one point during the season for ineffective play, so the Bears could offer Graham a shot at the job.

"It's not up to me. Either one of two things, I get franchised or I don't." -- Bears running back Matt Forte.

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.


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