Jennings brings playmaking to nickel

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- When the coaching staff yelled for the first-team nickel defense to take the field Tuesday during organized team activities, cornerback Tim Jennings simply took a couple of steps inside from his customary spot outside to the nickel position.

First-round pick Kyle Fuller, meanwhile, trotted over into Jennings' spot opposite Charles Tillman.

Jennings understands the team wants its first-round pick on the field as soon as possible, and he's fine moving inside to nickel to make that happen.

"We're gonna try it out. We've got to get Fuller out there so I'll move in on nickel packages and we'll bring Fuller at the left corner," Jennings said. "Hopefully, it'll be a full-time thing."


Having signed to a four-year extension worth $22.4 million on Jan. 2 coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons as a left cornerback, Jennings said he still would have taken the new deal if told beforehand he'd wind up playing nickel this season in the team's sub packages. Bears general manager Phil Emery pointed out Jennings' enthusiasm and attitude as reasons for the club's desire to bring back the cornerback long term.

Besides that, Jennings brings a playmaking element to the nickel spot, an attribute sorely needed because in 2013 the Bears failed to generate turnovers from that position. Part of the reason for that was Isaiah Frey played a good portion of last season at that position with a broken hand.

"Signing Tim to me is about rewarding excellence, and he has had that," Emery said back in January. "I can't tell you enough about the energy he brings, the positive upbeat style. I've always been very impressed with his athletic suddenness, his competitive fire, and the energy that he brings along with a key thing: He's a playmaker. He's had nine picks a year ago, and four picks this year. Those are the types of players that make us better, that make a difference that make plays. Career wise, [he] started 79 games out of 115 played, had 385 total tackles, 20 picks, 71 passes defended, seven forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries. [He's a] big part of our defense since he's been here, tremendous Pro Bowl season a year ago."

Those credentials and the big paycheck aren't so much that Jennings scoffs at the idea of moving inside to nickel in sub packages. When the Bears operated out of base defense Tuesday, Jennings played left corner opposite Tillman.

Besides that, Jennings mentioned he's experienced at covering in the slot. Early in his career with the Indianapolis Colts, Jennings said the only way he could get a shot at playing time was to take on the role as a nickel corner.

"It's a little different for me. I've got to get back to acclimated to playing nickel, and playing two positions on defense," Jennings said. "You're just another linebacker, an athletic linebacker. You have to be able to see a lot more things. You've got to be able to see a lot more backfield sets. It's a lot more reads, a lot more keys you have to get. I've got to get used to seeing different people, different formations with my eyes, and being able to see different things with my keys. It should be a couple days going out there I'll be back in the groove. Once I think I get that going, it'll be a good transition for all three of us. I'm kind of excited about it. We feel we have to get Kyle on the field running. So whether he has to play corner and I have to play nickel, we all have to take our jobs and just do what they ask us to do."