TELANDER: Bears’ corners sure got smooth — namely Tim Jennings
BY RICK TELANDER email@example.com
Cecil Shorts, Tim Jennings
Let’s hear it for the cornerback, can we?
It’s a miserable football position, a lifestyle choice that is comparable to that of a sole of a shoe.
One of the Golic brothers once said nose tackles are like fire hydrants at a dog show. So that one’s taken.
But cornerbacks are more. They are like fire hydrants at a dog show with slow-motion replay.
VOICE-OVER: There’s Fido raising his leg . . . and there, yes! . . . Let’s see that again from another angle!
Nobody notices a trampled and flattened nose tackle, lost somewhere in the flesh pile in the middle of the line. But a beaten cornerback is on a constant loop of video exploitation, a living poster for some preening wide receiver’s vanity file.
Unless that cornerback — for the moment, anyway — is a Bear.
For opposing wide receivers, it’s a kind of pick-your-poison.
Do you want to wrassle with the lanky, 6-2 Charles Tillman, maybe choke on ‘‘Peanut’’ shells as the 10-year vet pounds away at you with his fists, elbows and knees?
Or do you want to have a smallish pitbull named Tim Jennings attached to your throat?
The Bears’ secondary has been outstanding this season, and it’s not all because the safety positions have been filled dramatically by Chris Conte and Major Wright. Safeties have very difficult jobs, yes. Basically, just be everywhere and deeper than anybody.
But cornerbacks, those are the two guys who are knee-deep on sandbars, surfing big waves filled with sharks.
It has been said that the main thing a cornerback needs is a short memory. But for Tillman, that would mean forgetting about the two interceptions for touchdowns he made in the last two games, one in each.
And for our guy Jennings, it would mean forgetting that just a week ago he was named NFC defensive player of the month for September. He got that for his four interceptions and three deflections, which led to other Bears interceptions — one to Conte and two to Wright.
The season opener against the Indianapolis Colts let the whole world know that Jennings was aflame, which is the opposite of being lit up. He had four tackles, four passes broken up, a deflection for Conte’s pick and two interceptions of his own.
Here on Tuesday at Halas Hall, with the wind howling out of the southwest, Jennings doesn’t look all that imposing. And he’s not — though he sure looks taller than the 5-8 he’s listed at, and he looks heavier than the 185 the roster list says he is.
After all the reports about the ‘‘little guy’’ cornerback, you half expect Michu or Tom Thumb to pop out of somebody’s hand.
This guy is built like a rock, and his slow-talkin’ Southern drawl is just a smokescreen for the bundle of nerve fibers inside him.
Ask him how cool being player of the month is and he downplays it to the point of dismissal.
‘‘Yeah, it’s an honor,’’ he says. ‘‘But it doesn’t mean much, doesn’t mean anything.’’
It does hint at how good the Bears’ total defense is, of course.
This is an attacking defense that has allowed only 57 points against it in five games and has scored 35 points of its own. Put it together and the ‘‘D’’ is giving up only 4.4 net points per game. Now, if you were an offensive player, like, say, Jay Cutler or anybody under Mike Tice’s rule, this should make you very happy.
But why has Jennings played so well this season?
Coach Lovie Smith has a simple answer.
‘‘Last year he had a lot of opportunities, but he didn’t make the plays,’’ Smith said. ‘‘Simple as that. Didn’t get the ball.’’
He had two interceptions all of last year, for two yards in returns.
But as Lovie insists, ‘‘That’s the only difference — going to get the ball, holding on. Now he’s catching the ball.’’
Well, why? Tip drills?
‘‘Nah, it’s all instinct,’’ says Jennings. ‘‘Just play football. Ball’s in the air, go get it, hang onto it.’’
So simple. But, uh, you need to be near wherever it is the ball is being thrown. You can’t be like, say, Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Derek Cox, who got a stop-and-go touchdown route laid on him by the Bears’ Brandon Marshall from which he may still be recovering. You at least hope the Jags’ coaches have pointed out the smoking cinder on the field that was once his jock.
Jennings will say that his greatest talent is his speed and quickness.
‘‘My best 40 time?’’ he says. ‘‘Probably like a 4.3. I ran a 4.32 at the combine.’’ Of course, that was seven years ago and men age, and they slow down.
‘‘He’ll tell you he’s a little short,’’ Lovie says. ‘‘But he’s got almost a 40-inch vertical.’’ Which means two-handed jams for the fellow.
However he does it, Jennings is hot. And for a position that only gets dumped on, that’s beautiful.