Bears enjoying the Tim Jennings the Colts wished they’d had
BY SEAN JENSEN firstname.lastname@example.org November 3, 2012 4:20PM
Tim Jennings’ interception for a TD against the Panthers last week was his sixth pick of the year. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
Updated: December 6, 2012 5:50PM
Tony Dungy isn’t the least bit surprised by the breakout season of Bears veteran cornerback Tim Jennings.
Dungy just expected this years ago, when he was still the coach of the Indianapolis Colts.
‘‘He is what we thought we were going to get,’’ Dungy said. ‘‘I credit Rod [Marinelli] and Lovie [Smith] for getting that out of him.’’
A second-round pick in 2006 out of Georgia, Jennings was a member of the Colts when they beat the Bears in Super Bowl XLI, but he didn’t become a regular starter until 2008, Dungy’s final season.
‘‘He has toughness, speed. He played well for us, but not to a level of a potential Pro Bowl player,’’ Dungy said. ‘‘It’s a matter of him maturing and those guys [Smith and Marinelli] getting him to play up to his potential.
‘‘He’s playing great, and I’m very proud of him.’’
Charles Tillman is the Bears’ top cornerback, and opposing teams are testing Jennings. That strategy worked fairly well in the past, particularly because Jennings didn’t make them pay for mistakes. Last season, he had 13 pass defenses, but he dropped several would-be interceptions, leading to his benching last Christmas in Green Bay.
But he rebounded, starting the season finale, and in the offseason he re-signed with the Bears on a two-year, $6.6 million contract.
‘‘I just feel comfortable here. It’s a good situation for me,’’ said Jennings, 28. ‘‘The defense is good for me. When you kind of feel like the guys want you here, it gives you confidence, and it gives you the freedom. It’s like, ‘All I got to do is execute and have fun.’ ”
Jennings admitted he was weighed down by the pressure before. But he worked hard during the offseason to improve his hands, arriving on the practice field before anyone else to work on the JUGGS machine.
Through seven games, he has six interceptions, tops in the league and just one shy of his total over his first six NFL seasons.
‘‘As a coach, it’s very gratifying,’’ Smith said. ‘‘Last year, Timmy missed a lot of interceptions. He could have had a special year last year, but he didn’t. But what do you do when you’re disappointed? You say, ‘Improve on this,’ and then you see them work on those things, then you see the results. That’s how it’s supposed to happen.’’
Bears president Ted Phillips is thrilled with the team’s 6-1 start, but he has taken coach Lovie Smith’s approach to the season.
‘‘I’m very happy — you’re 6-1,” he said. ‘‘Take it one week at a time. Lovie has taught us all well. We take it one week at a time, and that’s what we’re going to do, and hopefully it’ll end in a really good season for us.’’
Smith has meshed well with new general manager Phil Emery, and the two have both fared well in their jobs, with their offseason decisions paying off so far.
So will the Bears work out a deal with Smith?
Smith and Emery have both been on the record as stating that the preference is to handle that in the offseason.
Phillips takes that mind-set, too.
‘‘Every contract is different, and we like to try to keep everything to the end of the year, out of respect to Lovie and what he’s trying to accomplish, week to week,’’ Phillips said. ‘‘We don’t want any of those distractions. So, as best we can, we’d like to do that.’’
Smith’s contract expires after the 2013 season, but coaches generally do not want to go into the final year of a deal.
The Bears are tied for third in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers with 81 fourth-quarter points. The Detroit Lions are first with 94, followed by the Denver Broncos with 89.
On defense, the Bears are tied for third with 35 points allowed in the fourth quarter. The Broncos have allowed a league-low 13.