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Fuller's emergence eases sting of Tillman injury

“He has no fear.” Why Kyle Fuller's emergence lessens the sting of Tillman's injury.

The kid's athleticism was obvious.

Go ahead and review Kyle Fuller's first career NFL interception from Sunday night, the one he made in the fourth quarter against the 49ers, breaking on a pass toward receiver Michael Crabtree, swatting at the ball and somehow clawing it right into his belly.

Then, in a blur, Fuller was off on a 20-yard return.

His instincts pack plenty of promise too. Fuller's second career pick came only 4 minutes after the first, a result of his vision and feel. On that play, he felt secure enough to drop off his primary coverage responsibility on Crabtree in order to cut off a Colin Kaepernick pass deeper down the field toward tight end Derek Carrier.

"Just in the right place at the right time," Fuller said.

In a blink, two takeaways led to two crucial Bears touchdowns with both plays requiring a combination of poise and aggressiveness. From a rookie.

But go deeper than that with Fuller. That's what veteran receiver Brandon Marshall suggested. When asked in the postgame revelry after the Bears' 28-20 win at Levi's Stadium what specifically has impressed him about the 22-year-old's skill set, Marshall thought it through.

Sure, there's the quickness, the toughness and the intelligence. But then there's the rookie's almost preternatural composure.

"He has no fear," Marshall said. "There's no wide receiver and there's no moment that's bigger than him. He has a great skill set. But better yet, his attitude is amazing."

The Bears suddenly will need all of that and more from their first-round pick. With news breaking Monday that 33-year-old cornerback Charles Tillman is headed for injured reserve and lost for the season with another injury to his right triceps, Fuller's workload and responsibilities are about to spike significantly.

Rookie mistakes will be inevitable. But with seemingly no moment too big for him, Fuller delivered in a big way Sunday, providing what could become two of the biggest moments in the season to steer the Bears away from the 0-2 cliff they were headed toward.

Just how devastating might 0-2 have been? Consider that the franchise has started that way 18 times and never regrouped to make the playoffs.

Fuller certainly didn't know that history Sunday. He has, after all, played only two games as a Bear. But what he knew in the fourth quarter against the 49ers was that his team needed a lift.

It wasn't just that the Bears had trailed all night, still down 13 points when the fourth quarter began. There was also the sudden absence of Tillman, who was lost for good in the third quarter.

"The mentality of the game is you're one play away," Fuller said. "If somebody goes down, you have to step it up and do the same things that he does."

With fellow corner Sherrick McManis also sidelined by a quadriceps injury, Fuller joined Tim Jennings as the only cornerbacks remaining to finish Sunday's game.

Talk about responsibility. Talk about pressure.

The Bears would rather talk about Fuller's poise, not surprised by his late heroics.

"We knew it since day one," quarterback Jay Cutler said.

Cutler noticed during organized team activities that Fuller had the mettle to compete with Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.

Marshall concedes the rookie eventually got his attention, referencing his own rookie year in 2006, when his eye-catching practice production convinced Broncos corner Champ Bailey to seek extra film study.

For Marshall, Fuller offered similar incentive.

"I had to do that this training camp," Marshall said. "I had to go in there in the Weber Center (in Bourbonnais) and just watch what he was doing. Because he surprised us."

With Tillman's season — and possibly his career as a Bear — over, Fuller is positioned to take the torch at cornerback far earlier than expected.

But he seems ready for that challenge. And Marshall, for one, is certain Fuller can thrive.

"I told him it's not about starting, it's not about making the Pro Bowl," Marshall said. "He needs to have Hall of Fame on his brain. Because that kid can play."

Sure, that praise borders on hyperbole just two games into a career. But the confidence Fuller already is inspiring is a major deal at a critical juncture for the Bears secondary.

dwiederer@tribune.com

Twitter @danwiederer

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