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Tim Jennings relishes coverage test against Steve Smith

Bears safety BrandMeriweather(C) cornerback Tim Jennings brings down Carolinreceiver Steve Smith after catch first quarter Chicago Bears 34-29 victory over

Bears safety Brandon Meriweather(C) and cornerback Tim Jennings brings down Carolina receiver Steve Smith after a catch in the first quarter of the Chicago Bears 34-29 victory over the Carolina Panthers Sunday October 2, 2011 at Soldier Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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When Tim Jennings was being hounded by the media and receiving lots of attention for his stellar play weeks ago, the Bears cornerback didn’t conceal his love for playing in the cover-2 scheme.

“I love the cover-2,” Jennings said after being named the defensive player of the month for September. “I love the fact that we can mix it up a little bit.”

But apparently so does Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith.

If last week was all about Charles Tillman’s matchup with Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, this week is about Jennings — and his beloved cover-2 — taking on Smith.

“Every coverage has been tried against [Smith],” coach Lovie Smith. “But you have to have a plan for him, and we do.”

Last year in the Bears’ wild 34-29 victory, that plan included having Jennings, while often not in strictly man-to-man coverage, lining up frequently over Smith. While not exactly divulging what he and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli have in the works for Sunday, Smith did say, “It should be a lot of fun watching them.”

While some receivers struggle finding holes in the Bears’ zone schemes, Smith, with his nifty ability to get off the line undeterred and the smarts to move to open areas as plays develop, has hauled in 34 passes for 568 yards and two touchdowns in three games against the Bears in the Lovie Smith era. The Bears should consider themselves lucky they faced the Panthers without Smith in 2008 and 2010 because of injuries.

“He’s a nightmare to defenses,” Tillman said.

Smith had eight catches for 181 yards last season against the Bears. His five longest catches, including a 53-yarder, came when the Bears were in zone and with Jennings responsible for him at some time.

“They’re not afraid to show you whether they’re in cover-1, cover-2 or cover-3,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “They’re going to line up and challenge you. That’s the kind of game Steve Smith loves.”

Jennings, though, sounds eager for a rematch.

“We kind of mix up a whole lot of coverages,” Jennings said. “It’s not so matching one-on-ones or anything like that. It’s we want to give him different looks.

“You’ve got to be able to compete with him, just kind of slow him down at the line of scrimmage and disrupt the timing between him and the quarterback.”

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