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Bears-Bills Preview: Tim Jennings, Zack Bowman compete at corner

Tim Jennings (26) scoffs notijob security: “You know how it is. I’m not secure all man.” | Jim Prisching~AP

Tim Jennings (26) scoffs at the notion of job security: “You know how it is. I’m not secure at all, man.” | Jim Prisching~AP

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:25AM

When the Bears were considering signing free-agent cornerback Kelvin Hayden on Monday, Tim Jennings wasn’t worried about losing his starting spot.

‘‘I’m worried about whether I’m going to be here or not,’’ the Bears starting cornerback said. ‘‘Because I know if you bring in another corner, somebody has to go. It’s up to [the Bears]. I’m here to compete for the job. That’s fine with me.’’

Bears coach Lovie Smith always has preached competition, but last year he set a new standard for accountability. Devin Aromashodu — the Bears’ leading receiver in their preseason opener — lasted one game at wide receiver. Tommie Harris was benched after two regular-season games. Mark Anderson lasted one game at defensive end. Lance Louis lasted four games at right guard. Kevin Shaffer lasted two games at right tackle.

And when Zack Bowman missed a tackle in the first quarter in Week 3 that allowed the Green Bay Packers to convert a third-and-16 that led to a touchdown, the Bears didn’t wait to see the film to make change. Bowman was out, and Jennings was in by the second quarter.

Jennings started the final 13 games of the regular season and both playoff games. He’s starting ahead of Bowman in the exhibition opener against the Buffalo Bills at 7 p.m. on Saturday night at Soldier Field. But he doesn’t believe he has won anything or is owed anything.

‘‘Secure?’’ he said with a laugh on the practice field at training camp in Bourbonnais, Ill. ‘‘You know how it is. I’m not secure at all, man. I just got to go out there and do what they ask me to do and compete.’’

Jennings and Bowman are battling again at the cornerback spot opposite mainstay Charles Tillman. Jennings, 5-8 but a tenacious competitor, fits the mold of the tough, physical corners the Bears prefer. But Bowman is 6-1, 193 pounds and matches up well with bigger receivers.

The Bears can win with either player. What they’re hoping the competition produces is a more consistent corner who creates turnovers. Bowman and Jennings combined for one interception (by Jennings) and two forced fumbles last year. In 2009, Bowman had six interceptions.

‘‘They’ve both come back in great shape,’’ Bears defensive backs coach Jon Hoke said. ‘‘They came back with tremendous attitudes and understanding that we have a bar set very high for this defense, and they understand how high that bar is.

‘‘We’ve got to have production, because this defense is built on getting takeaways. Charles [Tillman] had five last year; Tim had one. The year before, Zack had six; so we want some type of production. Between Tim and Zack, whoever is making plays and producing [will play].’’

Bowman, a fourth-year pro from Nebraska, isn’t moaning about getting benched last year. He played in 13 games, forced a fumble against the New York Giants — his first game after being replaced by Jennings — and contributed on special teams.

‘‘Last year was last year,’’ Bowman said. ‘‘I put all that stuff behind me, as soon as the season ended. Then I focused on this season. I told myself not to dwell on the past. I can only move forward and get better.’’

But he learned a valuable lesson.

‘‘Just to be more consistent,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s my goal this year.’’

Jennings said the competition is a friendly one. ‘‘We’re making each other better,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s up to the coaches to [decide] who had the better camp. Me and Zack, there’s no [bad] blood, We go out and compete. Our goal is to get better and help the team win.’’

In fact, Jennings said, he and Bowman worked out together in the offseason.

‘‘I’ve done a lot of work on my weaknesses — that’s my lower-body strength,’’ Jennings said. ‘‘I had some injuries from last year cleaned up. I feel better this year.’’

‘‘I feel real good,’’ Bowman said. ‘‘I just need to stay the course. That’s about it.’’

Now it’s up to them.

‘‘It’s competition, but we all want each other to do [well],’’ Bowman said. ‘‘You really don’t know what they’re going to do until game day. But Hoke said it and Lovie said it: The best players will play.’’

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