By Jeff Dickerson
CHICAGO -- Chicago Bears cornerback Tim Jennings spent the entire offseason working on press coverage to better handle the exact situation he encountered Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.
With the Rams facing a fourth-and-1 on the Bears' 37-yard line on the opening drive of the third quarter, Jennings jumped a slant route and broke up a pass intended for St. Louis wide receiver Brandon Gibson. It derailed a once promising Rams drive.
Of all the key plays Jennings made in the Bears Week 3 victory, the veteran cornerback believes the fourth down pass defense was the most important.
"They tried to run a slant and it was a pass break up to get us off the field," Jennings said. "That was a big play for the defense and I think it got the momentum going. It was fourth-and-1, so I think it was a standout play and the biggest play that we had.
"We had an aggressive call on fourth-and-1 with man coverage across the board. Just beat the guy in front of you. I just wanted to go out there and compete and press. They tried to run the slant and I got a good bead on it and got my hand on it."
Jennings has been able to get his hand on plenty of passes so far in the early portions of the season. He later deflected a ball in the fourth quarter that landed in the arms of Bears safety Major Wright who returned it 45 yards for a touchdown. Jennings sealed the win at the end of the game with his team-high fourth interception.
"I'm just playing more patient and I want to be more aggressive at the line of scrimmage," Jennings said. "I've been working on my press the entire offseason, concentrating on a couple of things that got me in trouble last season. I've just been playing with a whole lot more confidence and being more patient at the line."
Of all the moves the Bears made in the offseason, their decision to re-sign Jennings to a modest two-year deal appears to be one of the best. Jennings always had the reputation as a steady player and good tackler, but in the past he sometimes failed to capitalize on turnover opportunities. The cornerback has already doubled his previous career high in interceptions (2) just three weeks into the regular season.
“It’s hard to say exactly why," Bears head coach Lovie Smith said. "I just know that if you want a player to get better and you ask him to and give him things to work on and you have the ability to do it, I think it’s a commitment you have to make.
"Tim made a commitment to improve his game. Last year he had a lot of opportunities with his hands on balls and he didn’t make the play. You see him working on that trait every day. So I don’t know exactly how it happens and why a player in his career goes through it, but it’s fine to watch it and this is how it’s supposed to happen.”
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli calls Jennings "The Hawk" for his uncanny ability to find the football in important situations, and the name has stuck.
"Unbelievable every game," Brian Urlacher said. "He caused the take-away for Major, knocked the ball down earlier, had the pick at the end. He's got to be playing better than anybody in the NFL right now, I think."
Source: ESPN Chicago