Bears’ Jennings not short on tenacity
BOURBONNAIS — There are athletes who perform with an edge, treading the fine line that separates good, hard, clean effort from chippy play.
There are those who play with an attitude, giving no quarter and expecting none in return, operating with an in-your-face persona.
And then there’s Bears cornerback Tim Jennings.
The 29-year-old former Georgia Bulldog made his first Pro Bowl last season and led the NFL with 9 interceptions. At just 5-feet-8 and 185 pounds, Jennings didn’t achieve his lofty position by being Mr. Congeniality in a big man’s game. A feisty, aggressive approach is the way he compensates for lack of size.
“Being an undersized corner, I have to go out there and compete each and every day,” Jennings said.
“I think that gives me a little bit of an edge on or puts me up there with some of the top corners. Of course they’re all physically gifted, but some of the things I’m gifted with they’re not, (like) my speed and my quickness.
“They have the length, but my mindset is totally different. I feel like I have to go out there and work a little harder just to be able to compete with some of the top receivers.
“It’s been like this for a while, and it’s going to be like this for the rest of my career, probably.”
A growth spurt is unlikely, and when you’re the smallest dog in the fight, it helps to have a lot of fight. So that’s the way Jennings will continue to play, and it’s evident even in practice when he’s going against his teammates.
Even before the Bears had their second training camp-practice in pads, Jennings was involved in a collision with 6-6, 265-pound tight end Martellus Bennett that sent the much bigger man tumbling head over heels.
The feisty Jennings also flattened 245-pound fullback Michael Bush while breaking up a pass.
Both times Jennings hit the other guy high, usually a bad idea for someone giving away 60 or 80 pounds. Jennings doesn’t have a reputation for dirty play, especially against teammates, but he does have an attitude to go with 4.4 speed and elite quickness.
“That’s just the mentality you have to have,” he said. “Not being the biggest guy out there, I don’t want to be pushed around and let anybody think they can ever run me over or anything like that. It’s just the nature of the game.
“Martellus and Michael are competing just like each and every one of us out there, so I just want to go out there and compete.
“It’s not really intentional me trying to throw these guys to the ground. I’m really just going for the ball and trying to strip it out and it just so happens their heads are in the way.”
Guys hate when that happens, especially the guys whose heads are involved.
“He’s super competitive,” defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said of Jennings. “A guy that size, to compete at that level, whether it’s the run game or the pass game, he plays with a chip on his shoulder.
“He’s a pleasure to coach. He’s a guy that you can count on. You know what you’re going to get from him each and every day out here.
“That’s a mental approach first and foremost with him, and then on top of that he does have outstanding athletic ability. So you take a great mental approach with mental toughness and wanting to prove yourself every day, and you take that with athletic ability, then that’s how you get Tim Jennings.”
Until he came to the Bears as a free agent in 2010, Jennings had only scratched the surface of his potential. In four seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, after they drafted him in the second round in 2006, he started 21 games and had 4 interceptions.
In three seasons with the Bears, he has 42 starts and 12 interceptions.
Now that he has arrived, Jennings isn’t about to coast.
“That was last year,” he said of a career season that included a team-best 16 pass breakups. “You have to go out there and prove it again.
“What I’ve done in the past is in the past. It was a great feeling. I’m glad I was able to accomplish those things and see what it feels like, and it feels good.
“But I have to go out there and do exactly what I did last year to hopefully try to repeat or even do better.
“All those accomplishments and all those accolades, man, that was last year. I know how tough it is to attain that. I know what it takes to get me there, and I have to continue to do that.”
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