The Chicago Bears came into the season planning to use Tim Jennings at nickelback on defense. Yet the season-ending triceps injury to Charles Tillman and a quad injury to his backup, Sherrick McManis, who hasn’t played since Week 1, has kept Jennings out wide on passing downs.
The team initially inserted Isaiah Frey, last year’s nickelback, yet he failed to produce at a high level and the club waived him last week. As a result, second-year corner Demontre Hurst was inserted in the slot.
Hurst rewarded the team with three tackles and his first career interception against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 6.
“That play last week where I got the interception was really important to me,” Hurst told Bear Report. “A lot was on the line for the team right then and it was the kind of a situation where you want to make a big impact. I saw the ball and I grabbed it then went to the turf kind of curled around it. I don’t think I’ve ever held on to a ball that tight.
“And yes, I did save it. I handed the ball to an assistant as soon as I got off the field. They’re cleaning it up for me, getting it ready for me to keep. I think about that ball all the time and I can’t wait to take it home. It’s number one in what I hope will be a sizable trophy case in my house some day.
“In a situation like that, I think the play can either slow down or speed up depending on your individual perception. I’ve had guys tell me that things go real slow and they can see things very clearly when a play like that comes along. For me it was as if everything was happening at double speed. It was fourth down and the Falcons wanted to get to their go-to guy. I knew that would be Julio [Jones] so I shadowed him as best I could. I played my seam drop like regular nickels do and it worked out.
“As I went through my progression I could see that the D line was getting through. I knew there would be pressure and urgency on that throw. It was coming into my area, right at me in fact. I saw the ball get close, I jumped in there and I got it. It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time combined with a lot of luck.
“But that said, it wouldn’t have happened without the defense. The whole D line played great. It was fun because there were a lot of young guys in there then and we were doing out best to work together and just play Bears football.
“Anytime you can be in on a play that pretty much seals the game, it’s the best possible situation. That’s the kind of thing we work hard all week to achieve on Sundays.
“When I fell to the ground I must have checked 10 times to be sure I still was holding on to that ball. When I was certain that all was OK, I began to relax and enjoy the moment. Going to the sidelines, guys were patting me on the back, congratulating me. What a great feeling. I’d like a similar experience in every game.”
For Hurst, who entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma last season, the interception was the culmination over more than a year’s worth of hard work.
Hurst spent last season on Chicago’s practice squad, then made the team coming out of training camp this year. Yet after the Week 1 contest, on Sept. 8, the Bears waived him, sending Hurst back to the free-agent bin.
Yet 10 days later, on Sept. 18, Chicago re-signed him and three weeks after that, he was starting against the Falcons.
“It’s a team experience and I want the other guys on defense to be completely comfortable that things will get taken care of when I’m out there. I want the other players as well as our coaches to know I can get the job done when they need me.
“Also, I want to go out there and feel I can be just as good as any other nickel in the league. That means doing my job, not trying to do too much, begin in the proper position, that kind of thing. It’s a growing process learning each and every week. Right now I’m everywhere learning corner, learning nickel. That's a good thing. If you become static in your development, you aren’t going to succeed.
“So much of success at this level is in taking care of details. You need to refine your technique, watch the veterans and pay attention in meetings. Physically you need to be in top shape but there is a lot more to playing well than that.
“I understand now exactly who to prepare for various teams and how to alter my technique each week to be most effective. I watch film for hours, seeing where I can fit in and what I can do. To me it’s not so much a matter of speed as it is of having a good sense of the movement on the field. You have to be very alert and make counter moves instantaneously. Take nothing for granted. Smart football at all times is the key. You’ve got to know the play, know the formation, observe tendencies, that kind of thing.
“I’m not the smartest guy yet but I’m sure working hard to get there. But I am growing and hoping that I can go out there and continue to build on this last game.
“The Dolphins are very athletic with a lot of skill guys out there. They have good speed guys too so it’s going to be a challenge for us. I see a lot of physical plays against them where we have to get out there and go after those guys. Put pressure on the quarterback, that kind of thing. Our guys in the secondary and the linebackers will be following the ball and getting to it.
“We definitely want that first home win real bad. We owe that to ourselves and to the fans.”
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 14 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.