Bears CB Tim Jennings has made habit of proving doubters wrong
BY MARK POTASH September 25, 2012 10:44PM
Despite his 5-8 frame, Bears cornerback Tim Jennings leads the NFL with four interceptions. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
Updated: October 27, 2012 6:26AM
With Darrelle Revis out for the season and Charles Woodson playing safety, the Bears’ Tim Jennings might be the best cornerback in football.
Can it last? It’s unlikely the 5-8 Jennings can keep up his pace. He not only leads the NFL with four interceptions, but he’s making almost every play that comes his way and he’s getting the breaks.
Andrew Luck gave Jennings just enough room to make a spectacular interception of a deep ball in Week 1. The Rams’ Brandon Gibson had Jennings beat downfield Sunday but dropped a pass from Sam Bradford. And Jennings’ pass deflection turned into a 45-yard interception return for a touchdown by Major Wright. The guy is maxing out.
But even hardened skeptics are warned to doubt Jennings at their own risk. The 28-year-old from Orangeburg, S.C., has made a living beating the odds and proving he’s not too short to play at any level.
When Jennings was in high school, he was a state-champion sprinter with an ‘‘unlimited’’ vertical leap — his description. In football, he scored six touchdowns on kick returns and three as a receiver. But his only scholarship offers were from Eastern Kentucky, North Carolina A&T and South Carolina State.
Jennings committed to South Carolina State in Orangeburg in 2002, but he received a last-minute call from Georgia. The Bulldogs offered him a scholarship the night before national signing day when three higher-profile recruits chose other schools.
It didn’t take long for Jennings to prove he belonged. In his first two games, he helped Georgia beat the two home-state schools that overlooked him, Clemson and South Carolina. Five weeks later, he started against Vanderbilt and helped hold Jay Cutler to 158 yards passing in a 48-17 Georgia victory.
Two weeks after that, he had has first interception, against Florida’s Rex Grossman. The next week against Ole Miss, he returned an interception of an Eli Manning pass 64 yards for a tiebreaking touchdown in a 31-17 victory.
He made the SEC all-freshman team and was first-team all-SEC as a senior. The Colts took him in the second round of the 2006 draft — 62nd overall, 20 picks after the Bears took Danieal Manning. The Colts didn’t re-sign him this past offseason.
He probably can’t live on ‘‘Revis Island’’ for very long. But with his catch-up speed, vertical leap and tackling ability, Jennings is better equipped than most to prove people wrong. He’s been doing it for so long, it’s what makes him tick.
BEARS ROOKIE WATCH: Brandon Hardin
Five weeks after he left the field on a spinal board in a cart after suffering what looked like a debilitating neck injury, Bears rookie safety Brandon Hardin is ready to get back on the field.
Much to his chagrin, he can’t. The Bears put Hardin on injured reserve after he suffered the injury and is out for the season. But he told the Sun-Times that if it were up to him, ‘‘I’d be trying to play this week.’’
‘‘If there was no IR, if it was similar to college rules, I’d be playing in a couple of weeks, probably. That’s the frustrating part,’’ Hardin said in his second interview since returning to Halas Hall.
‘‘[But] that’s how I feel. It would still be up to the doctors because they would still have to clear me. And with any sort of neck injury, they want to make sure it’s 100 percent.’’
The 6-3, 217-pound Hardin, a third-round draft pick from Oregon State who had been making steady progress at safety in training camp, suffered the injury when he tackled Washington Redskins tight end Logan Paulsen in a preseason game Aug. 18 at Soldier Field.
Hardin fell to the ground after his helmet made contact with Paulsen’s hip. He never lost consciousness or the ability to move his arms and legs. But he spent two weeks in a neck brace. According to Hardin, it looked worse than it was.
‘‘I wasn’t that scared, to be honest with you,’’ he said. ‘‘The initial hit, it was a stinger. I’ve had stingers before, and when I picked up my feet and knew I could move, I knew that I was fine. I wanted to stand up and shake it off. But I was told to let them make sure I was OK. Our doctors and trainers wanted to take all precautions necessary to ensure my safety.’’
Hardin, who missed his senior season at Oregon State with a shoulder injury, said he has watched the play ‘‘over and over again.
‘‘The obvious mistake was making contact with my head,’’ said Hardin, who grew up in Honolulu. ‘‘The way I envisioned the play unfolding was a shoulder to his midsection. A couple of inches to the left, and it could have been really bad. A couple of inches to the right, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. It would have been a nice shoulder to the gut and I’d be fine. It’s a game of inches.’’
EX-BEAR OF THE WEEK: Devin Aromashodu
The 6-2 Aromashodu, who was on the roster bubble with the Vikings until he caught a 58-yard touchdown pass in the preseason finale, had only two catches for 24 yards against the 49ers. But they led to a touchdown that helped the Vikings (2-1) to a 24-13 upset victory at the Metrodome.
The biggest play was an 11-yard pass from Christian Ponder on third-and-11 from the 49ers’ 34-yard line in the second quarter. Ponder scrambled 23 yards for a touchdown on the next play to give the Vikings a 14-3 lead they would not lose. Aromashodu also had a 13-yard catch earlier in that drive.
Aromashodu caught four touchdown passes in the final four weeks of the 2009 season. But he found his way into Mike Martz’s doghouse after starting and catching five passes for 71 yards in the 2010 opener against the Lions and never recovered.
In 16 games with the Vikings last season, Aromashodu had 26 receptions for 468 yards (18.0 yards per catch) and one touchdown. He has six receptions for 104 yards (17.3 per catch) this season.
IF YOU CAN’T STAND THE HEAT . . .
Lost in the hysteria of the Seahawks’ 14-12 victory over the Packers on Monday night was the Packers’ recovery from an abominable start.
Aaron Rodgers was under siege like Jay Cutler on the Bears’ worst night. He was sacked eight times in the first half but kept his composure and avoided disaster. He had no turnovers in the onslaught, and the Packers trailed only 7-0.
It makes a difference. When Cutler was sacked nine times in the first half against the Giants in 2010, he was intercepted once, fumbled three times, lost one, had a 40.7 passer rating and left the game with a concussion. On Monday night, Rodgers was still standing with nary a turnover and a 90.6 passer rating (12-for-15, 86 yards). There’s a reason why he has thrown just one pick-six in 79 NFL games (2,468 attempts including the postseason).
The Packers were on tilt but responded in the second half, allowing zero sacks. In 10 games in which Rodgers has been sacked five times or more, he has thrown 16 touchdown passes and nine interceptions with an average passer rating of 91.5.
Cutler handles adversity well, but only to a point. In seven games in which he has been sacked five times or more, he has thrown five touchdown passes and eight interceptions with an average rating of 64.6. Rodgers has the better supporting cast, but he’s one of the reasons it’s a better supporting cast. Even with Brandon Marshall as a target, Cutler was stifled by the Packers’ defense Sept. 13 at Lambeau Field.
Here is a list of Cutlers’ performances in games in which he has been sacked five times or more:
Year Opp Sacks Att-Cmp-Yds TD-Int Rating
2007 at Texans 5 27-39-254 1-0 95.5
2010 at Giants 9 8-11-42 0-1 40.7
vs. Seahawks 6 17-39-290 0-0 69.4
at Packers 6 21-39-168 0-2 43.5
2011 vs. Falcons 5 22-32-312 2-1 107.8
at Saints 6 19-45-244 1-0 67.3
2012 at Packers 7 11-27-126 1-4 28.2