- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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Jennings practiced on Wednesday in a limited capacity, and Bears coach Lovie Smith expressed optimism about the cornerback's prospects for returning Sunday to play in the first of two crucial games to close out the regular season.
"I'm always eager to get back out there to kind of help the team and contribute," Jennings said Thursday. "I just want to definitely make sure my shoulder is where it needs to be strength and flexibility-wise to go out there and help the team win. I know if I feel like I can't help them at all, then I'm no good out there."
Jennings dislocated his right shoulder during Chicago's 23-17 loss in overtime to the Seattle Seahawks during an attempt to tackle fullback Michael Robinson. The injury forced Jennings out of the team's next two contest against the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers.
Veteran Kelvin Hayden filled in for Jennings, who leads the NFL in interceptions (8), over the next two games, and became a target for opposing quarterbacks. With Hayden in coverage, opposing quarterbacks targeted the cornerback on 14 occasions, and completed 10 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown for a passer rating over two games of 118.75.
"Tim leads the league in interceptions," said linebacker Lance Briggs, who hopes Jennings returns to face the Cardinals, "so that right there is a big-time player."
Jennings contributed three multi-interception contests (Week 1, Week 8 and Week 10), before suffering the injury against the Seahawks. Two of his pass breakups this season have resulted in INTs.
Jennings still feels pain in the injured shoulder. If he plays, Jennings said the training staff will "do everything possible to make sure it stays in place," but he's well aware of the prospects for reinjuring the shoulder.
While Jennings expressed the desire to exercise every precaution in his possible return, he also understands the team's prospects for the postseason hang in the balance. Even if the Bears win out, there's still a chance they won't advance to the playoffs.
"Of course (dislocating the shoulder again) could happen," Jennings said. "I think my range of motion is back where it needs to be. The pain is gonna be there. But that's just a part of football. I just have to go out there and believe in the training staff, what we're gonna do, and try to kind of prevent some of the pain or recurring any kinds of injuries."