The Chicago Bears signed cornerback Tim Jennings as a free agent in 2010 after he had played four seasons in Indianapolis. The Colts run a Tampa 2 system similar to the one used in Chicago, so the front office felt Jennings could serve well as a backup or nickelback.
The team had high hopes for Zack Bowman, who had started 12 games the previous season, resulting in six interceptions. They felt Bowman was their corner of the future and broke camp with him starting opposite Charles Tillman. Yet by Week 3, it became obvious Bowman was overmatched. Despite a unique skill set, Bowman just didn't have the toughness to play corner for Lovie Smith, and his mental mistakes in coverage led to numerous big plays for the opposition.
Chicago's coaches benched Bowman and gave Jennings the starting spot. He did not relinquish the role and started the remaining 13 games in 2010. Despite his small stature (5-8, 185) Jennings is a hard-nosed player that is strong against the run. He has played in the Tampa 2 his whole career and fully understands his duties in zone coverage.
Yet despite a successful 2010, the club made Jennings battle it out with Bowman last season for the starting spot. The competition wasn't even close and Jennings easily won out. He started strong last year but faded late in the campaign, which eventually led to him being benched in favor of Bowman in Week 16. Bowman subsequently gave up three touchdowns to the Packers in that game, which propelled Jennings back into the starting spot to finish out the year.
Jennings has used that brief benching as motivation this offseason.
CB Tim Jennings
"It's kind of motivation but on the same token the coaches are going to make a decision to kind of figure out what they want to do," Jennings said after OTA practice this week. "The opportunity was there so I wanted to come out and prove the next game against Minnesota that I was kind of your guy the whole season and hopefully I continue to be your guy moving forward in my career."
Jennings earned a two-year contract extension this offseason, yet the coaching staff still isn't convinced he's the long-term answer. As such, they've informed Jennings that he'll once again have to fight for the starting spot.
"They already told me a heads up that I'm still going to go out there and compete for a starting job," said Jennings. "So I have to go out there and compete each and every day and improve, and let the coaches know that if I'm there guy, they're going to make a decision, but I want to make it tough for him."
The team signed veteran corners Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Wilhite this offseason, and drafted Isaiah Frey and Greg McCoy. Any of those four, with a strong training camp, could unseat Jennings, who knows he'll once again have to prove himself in the eyes of Chicago's coaches.
"You've seen the moves they've made in the offseason. They brought in some corners. We drafted [two more]. There's a lot of talent. It's just going to have to make me step up my game a little bit more and get me to go out there and continue to work hard and get better at some things."
Jennings sat out last week's OTA session open to the media but was on the field yesterday. He made a number of nice plays during 1-on-1 drills and looked very good in 7-on-7s. On one play, he stepped in front of a Jay Cutler pass and made an impressive diving interception.
None of the other abovementioned four corners have made much of an impression, with both Hayden and Wilhite already having missed time due to injury. Right now, it's Jennings' job to lose.
"It's going to be real competitive," he said. "Like I said, I know some of these guys, I know them pretty well, and I got a chance to watch them and see what they can bring to the game. I think overall we've made a great improvement in the secondary, whether I'm out there or not. It's just going to get me to continue to work on some of the things that I need to work on. It's going to be a competitive camp."
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.