The Chicago Bears currently sit atop the NFC North with a 2-1 record. During the offseason and training camp many thought the offense would lead the way but it has been the defense thus far. The defensive unit has had multiple standout players but only one man wears the crown as the team's best player.
Tim Jennings has started the season on fire. The 29-year-old out of Georgia has been a lockdown corner and turnover machine. Jennings already has two more interceptions and one less pass deflection than all of last year.
While Jennings has always been a quality corner, the knock on him has always been his inability to force turnovers and play lockdown man coverage. In his past two seasons as a Bear, Jennings only had three interceptions and 17 pass deflections.
During the offseason the Bears showed interest in then free-agent cornerback Courtland Finnegan. They walked away from Finnegan when contract talks went north of $9 million a season. He eventually signed with the Rams for a five-year $50 million contract with $24 million guaranteed. Just days after that the Bears re-signed Jennings to a two-year contract worth $6.6 million.
There is no doubt the Bears now have tremendous value in Jennings. To his credit he worked hard on his craft in the offseason to make sure he would never get benched again like in Week 16 against Green Bay last year.
"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."
This year Jennings is a different player. He currently has nine pass deflections through three games. He has taken great pride in improving this facet of his game. Case in point was the key breakup he had on the St. Louis Rams' opening drive in the third quarter. Facing 4th-and-1 on the Bears' 37-yard line, the Rams threw a slant route to receiver Brandon Gibson. Jennings jumped the route and stopped a promising drive at a key point in the game.
Later in that game Jennings deflected a pass that landed in the hands of Bears safety Major Wright who returned the interception for a touchdown and put the game out of reach. Jennings did add his own interception later on to give him four on the season and make him the league leader in that category.
He started the season with two interceptions against the Colts. Jennings set the tone in that game showing teams he has no problem playing tough man coverage and they better be prepared for a player who has turned into a real ball hawk.
In addition to the opposition, Jennings has proven a great deal to his teammates and coaching staff. The Bears can now feel comfortable leaving Jennings alone on an elite receiver allowing other players to focus on other areas.
Right now the Bears have shown the NFL they have an elite pass rush. A big part of that comes from Jennings and his ability to not only play one on one coverage but also shut down one side of the field, allowing pass-rushers to tee off on the opposing quarterback.
In a division where the Bears see quality receivers like Percy Harvin, Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings and Calvin Johnson having a guy like Jennings is important. A game plan against those players is easier to develop when Tim Jennings is playing at the level he is.
The Bears defense currently ranks fifth in the league in points and sixth in yards against. Of the team's six interceptions, Jennings has four of them. Early on the defense has carried this team and Tim Jennings is wearing the crown as the Bears' best player.