His time has come
Bears' Tim Jennings making the most of his opportunity at cornerback
In the middle of all of this Jay Cutler Being Jay Cutler/Back To The Drawing Board/Maybe the Bears Aren't Who We Think They Are drama that has become the past week of our lives in Chicago rests a potential lining of platinum.
The added pressure to continue to do well is the only pressure I have on me now.” -- Tim Jennings
Number: 26. First name: Tim. Last name: Jennings.
We've all heard his name, we've all seen him play. For the past two years he's been the "other" guy, playing in Peanut Tillman's Pro Bowl shadow. The dread-headed cornerback whose Jeopardy answer to "claim to fame moment" up until the first two games of this season was: He was the cornerback covering Brandon Marshall in 2009 when Marshall set the NFL record for most receptions in a single game with 21.
Two games deep into this season, the new Jeopardy answer to "Who is Tim Jennings" is: He recorded the first NFL interception off heralded Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck. And it was a spectacular pick.
Most thought his Game 1 performance was just retaliation against the Colts. Two years ago the Colts dropped Jennings. Had no use for him. And for two seasons it seemed like he'd just been stuck in a GSH uniform waiting for his come-up moment.
Then almost as if it was scripted by Terence Winter, Tillman goes down in this season's opener and leaves the game. An opening for Jennings to become a one-game superstar presented itself.
By game's end: Four tackles, two solos, two interceptions. First name: Tim. Last name: Jennings. Come-up.
Then last week: Five tackles, four solos, one interception. First name: Tim. Last name: Jennings. Came up.
Let's deal with the undeniable: If it weren't for the Cutler/J'Marcus Webb magnet that tugged at every media outlet in the city, Jennings would be the talk of Chicago right now. The ray of hope that could have made that Thursday night nationally televised performance in Green Bay easier to digest and harder to accept.
Because going into Week 3, Jennings has been the one player who's given the Bears something they didn't expect. The come-outta-nowhere cornerback who, if he plays this way the rest of the season, puts the Bears' corners in the same conversation as Asomugha/Rodgers-Cromartie in Philly, Bailey/Porter in Denver, Revis/Cromartie in New York.
Read again: If he plays this way the rest of the season.
"Honestly, up until this point I've always had to keep going out and battling for a roster spot," Jennings said after practice Thursday. "Once I was able to realize that [the Bears] wanted me back, and that they just wanted me to go out there and compete, and that I was the starting corner going into the season, I've been able to just go out there and work on some of the things I needed to work on to get better."
From this, an elevated level of confidence was reached. Because of this, Jennings' footwork, hands, breaking on the ball, anticipation, timing and reads became more acute. His need to prove himself lessened, the need to prove his worth disappeared. The game suddenly slowed down for him.
He's been able to play with a degree of "comfort" (his word) that he hadn't had since entering the league. The comfort in knowing that a team actually wanted him back -- Jennings inked a two-year, $6.6 million deal in the offseason -- has helped him emerge as a consistent force.
The beauty in this is also the timing of it all. Just when the Bears might have begun to worry about Tillman's age (31) and body, along with who they were going to find in a few years to replace him, Jennings hit his prime.
Seven seasons in, Jennings knows the game. At 28, he knows himself.
All Jennings has to do from this point on is one thing: continue.
"The added pressure to continue to do well is the only pressure I have on me now," he said. "I'm not going to change what I do. I'm still going to go out there and enjoy playing football and having fun doing it. If the opportunities come my way I just want to make the best of those opportunities."
Jennings pauses for a second. Marinating in his come-up moment. Then continues. "That's all I can really ask for."