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Colts castoff Tim Jennings a delight for Bears

Bears cornerback Tim Jennings takes off fourth quarter after his second interception. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Bears cornerback Tim Jennings takes off in the fourth quarter after his second interception. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 11, 2012 6:19AM



In a star-studded lineup, on an afternoon when the Bears’ defense generated four turnovers, the most yeomanlike starter shined the brightest.

Tim Jennings, cast aside by the Indianapolis Colts after starting just five games in 2009, intercepted two passes against No.  1 overall pick Andrew Luck and keyed a 41-21 Bears victory Sunday at Soldier Field.

Jennings doesn’t have the Pro Bowl pedigree like Julius Peppers (nine), Lance Briggs (seven), Brian Urlacher (eight) or cornerback Charles Tillman (one). But his first interception occurred deep in Bears territory, and his last sealed the game just inside two minutes.

Not to mention he had a diving deflection in the end zone in the third quarter that Chris Conte intercepted and returned 35 yards.

‘‘I wanted to come into Week 1 and make the most of every opportunity. I was able to do that today,’’ Jennings said. ‘‘It always feels good to have that confidence that I can catch it. When you have that confidence, you’ll be all right.’’

Truth is, Jennings didn’t always have that confidence.

His performance Sunday wasn’t a matter of showing up his old team; he let go of any hard feelings long ago. Besides, the 2012 Colts hardly resemble the club he left after the 2009 season.

Yet Jennings didn’t draw much interest that offseason. He signed a modest two-year contract with the Bears weeks into free agency.

The expectation was that Zack Bowman would start opposite Tillman in 2010, but Jennings quickly established himself as the superior, more consistent cornerback, starting 13 of 16 games. Last season, he had his ups and downs, although he surely should have finished with more than two interceptions.

This offseason, he re-signed for a two-year, $6.6 million contract.

‘‘I just feel comfortable here,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s a good situation for me. 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 that the specter of being benched after a bad game or play affected him. But he had a strong offseason, which coach Lovie Smith often noted, and he worked hard on catching balls.

Since the spring, before every practice, Jennings has caught 20 to 40 passes from the JUGS ball machine, he said. The dividends immediately came, as he had his share of interceptions in camp.

‘‘Great offseason work, training camp,’’ Smith said. ‘‘He’s been playing that way, competing hard. It’s a great start for Tim.’’

So how confident is Jennings now? He actually insisted he ‘‘baited” Luck into the interceptions, making the rookie think he had him beat.

‘‘It wasn’t that he was just open. Nah, I baited him and made him think it was open,” Jennings said. ‘‘I knew he’d have to make a perfect throw, and the ball kind of hung up there.’’

His two interceptions already have matched his single-season career high.

At 5-8, he is going to get beat by bigger receivers. But he’s a prideful player who fits the Bears’ defensive scheme.

Kelvin Hayden, who played with Jennings in Indianapolis, isn’t at all surprised by Sunday.

‘‘I know what type of player Tim was and what type of player he can be,’’ said Hayden, who did an admirable job of filling in for Tillman, who left with a leg injury in the first half. ‘‘He’s a guy that will keep working at it and fight for everything that he has.’’

Keep it up, and Jennings will shed the yeoman label and perhaps join some of his teammates at the Pro Bowl.



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