Jennings to play nickel on passing downs

Bears Pro Bowl cornerback Tim Jennings says he'll slide inside to the nickelback position on passing downs to make room for first rounder Kyle Fuller out wide.

Tim Jennings is used to challenges.

He was a part-time starter for four years with the Indianapolis at the beginning of his career and despite playing extremely well for the Chicago Bears from the moment he signed in 2010, his job security was tenuous for more than two years.

It took two straight Pro Bowl campaigns for Jennings to finally earn some respect from the Bears and their coaching staff.

Or has he?

He was re-signed to a four-year contract in January yet the guaranteed money is front-loaded, making him just a two-year investment. On top of that, the Bears drafted cornerback Kyle Fuller in the first round of this year's draft.

This afternoon, during the first practice of organized team activities (OTAs) Fuller was immediately inserted with the first team on passing downs. Yet it was Jennings who slide inside to nickelback, with Fuller and Charles Tillman positioned out wide.

"We're gonna try it out," Jennings said after practice. "We've got to get Fuller out there so I'll move in on nickel packages and we'll bring Fuller at the left corner. Hopefully, it'll be a full-time thing. It's a little different for me. I've got to get back to acclimated to playing nickel and playing two positions on defense. Once I think I get that going, it'll be a good transition for all three of us."

The coaching staff informed Jennings of his move inside last week.

"That was all last week. It was news to me," he said.

Throughout his time in Indianapolis, Jennings manned the slot, so the shift to nickelback won't involve a learning curve.

"I played nickel earlier in my career when I was at Indianapolis, a little bit here," he said.

Jennings compared the slot corner role to that of a fourth linebacker due to the position's proximity to the offensive line and the role he'll play against the run.

"It's a little different. You're just another linebacker, an athletic linebacker," he said. "You have to be able to see a lot more things. You've got to be able to see a lot more backfield sets. It's a lot more reads, a lot more keys that you have to get. I've got to get used to seeing different people, different formations with my eyes and being able to see different things with my keys.

"It's kind of two-way, run-pass keys. It's another linebacker position, but you're just a cornerback so now you're kind of matched up with the third wide receiver. But in certain situations, certain keys, you've got to be able to fit the run like a linebacker."

Jennings said the move inside, had he known about it back in December, would not have changed his mind about the decision to re-sign.

"No. The thing about it is, it really doesn't matter," he said. "I've been kind of wanting to play nickel since I got here. So now that I have the opportunity, I'm kind of excited about it. We'll see how it goes. We feel like we have to get Kyle on the field. We have to get him on the field running. So whether he has to play corner or I have to play nickel, we all have to take our jobs and do what they ask us to do and hopefully we can turn this thing around."


Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.


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