Last season, the Chicago Bears held a training camp competition between Tim Jennings and Zack Bowman for the starting cornerback spot opposite Charles Tillman. While Bowman (6-1, 196) had the physical traits for a typical Cover 2 corner, the smaller Jennings (5-8, 185) showed far more toughness and easily won out.
Jennings played well for the first half of the 2011 campaign but struggled down the stretch, leading to brief demotion in Week 16 – during which Bowman was dismantled by the Green Bay Packers, giving up three touchdowns. Jennings was inserted back into the starting lineup the next week and was re-signed this offseason to a two-year deal.
Yet once again, the Bears will force Jennings to earn the starting job during training camp this year. This time, he'll have to beat out Kelvin Hayden, a seven-year veteran who was signed to a one-year deal this offseason.
CB Tim Jennings
Bob Donnan/US Presswire
Let's break down this upcoming training camp competition.
The case for Jennings
Despite his relatively diminutive size, Jennings fits perfectly in Chicago's version of the Tampa 2 defense. He's a physical corner that has very good quickness and breaks well on balls in zone coverage. He played in the same system in Indianapolis before being signed by the Bears in 2010.
Additionally, Jennings is very strong against the run and isn't afraid to get dirty taking down opposing running backs. His willingness in run defense is what earned him the job over Bowman last year.
Yet Jennings struggles in man coverage and does not have the size or strength to be physical in press coverage. His stature also hurts him in jump-ball situations.
Still, Jennings has proven himself as a quality player in Lovie Smith's defense. He has the ability to make plays and shows a lot of leadership on the field. He has earned the starting gig once already and should do so again this offseason.
The case for Hayden
Bears fan likely remember Hayden best for his pick-six as a member of the Colts in Super Bowl XLI. He spent six seasons in Indianapolis, working in their version of the Cover 2. Injuries limited him his final two years in Indy and he was allowed to hit free agency last year. Chicago worked him out but chose not to sign him then, with Hayden eventually landing in Atlanta.
Over his seven seasons, Hayden has just 11 interceptions, so he's not the game-changing type. Yet like Jennings, Hayden is a tough player and a willing tackler. He's good in zone sets and knows Chicago's defense inside and out.
Predicting the winner
These are two very comparable players with similar skill sets. Hayden has more size (6-0, 195) and experience, and would be a serviceable cornerback for the Bears. If he's recovered from the neck and leg injuries that plagued him the past two seasons, he'll have a very good shot at earning the starting gig. At the very least, he'll make a solid backup.
Yet this is Jennings' job to lose. Chicago's coaches forcing him to once again prove his worth appears to have lit a fire under him, as he was easily the best member of the secondary in offseason training activities and veteran minicamp. He made a number of nice plays and truly stood out.
Unless Jennings becomes injured or struggles mightily in Bourbonnais, he will break camp as the starter, with Hayden waiting in the wings.
Winner: Tim Jennings
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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.