Jennings, coach bond over INTs

Caption
Bears cornerback Tim Jennings (center) celebrates with teammates Brandon Marshall (left) and Earl Bennett after he scored on an interception return against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday at Soldier Field. Jennings leads the NFL with six interceptions. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

LAKE FOREST – Sometimes, Gill Byrd sees a little bit of himself in Tim Jennings.

Byrd shined for a decade with the San Diego Chargers, where he led all NFL cornerbacks in interceptions from 1989-91 and finished his career with a franchise-record 42 interceptions.

These days, Byrd is the Bears’ assistant defensive backs coach and safeties coach. He proudly has watched Jennings notch six interceptions in seven games to lead the NFL.

“We talk all the time,” Byrd said Friday after the Bears finished an outdoor practice at Halas Hall. “Tim is faster than I was. He’s quicker than I was. He’s not tougher than I was.”

Then Byrd laughed, knowing that his final assessment would rile up Jennings.

It did.

“Oh, I doubt that,” Jennings said with a grin when told about Byrd’s toughness comment.

It’s not tough to see the bond between player and coach.

Jennings routinely has credited all of his coaches for helping him find success, from head coach Lovie Smith to defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli to defensive backs coach Jon Hoke. But no one on the staff carries the same on-the-field credentials as Byrd, a two-time Pro Bowl defender who was inducted into the Chargers Hall of Fame in 1998.

If Jennings has a great game, he can turn to Byrd for tips on how to handle success. If Jennings has a disappointing game, he can turn to Byrd for tips on how to bounce back from failure.

Before picking off passes, Jennings can pick the brain of a former standout player.

“It means a lot,” Jennings said. “Coach Gill was a great player. He went to a few Pro Bowls. You ultimately want to play as long as he did on the level that he was able to play on.

“I look at it as very motivational coming from a guy like Coach Gill. Being the man that he is today, not just the player, but what he’s become after football, you look toward all that and want to become that.”

Byrd sees no reason why Jennings cannot continue to improve.

“Tim is an excellent athlete,” Byrd said. “He really is. He’s explosive. He’s a tough ball player, and he’s developed some excellent ball skills with his hands and catching the ball.

“And I think with the confidence he’s gotten with catching the ball, he wants more. He just gets more hungry. He’s tasted those interceptions. They’ve tasted good. He wants more.”

Another reason for Jennings to want more is to enjoy bragging rights against Byrd. Jennings’ next interception would be his seventh, which would match Byrd’s single-season high.

And what if Jennings ends up topping Byrd’s single-season record?

“I’m OK with that,” Byrd said with a smile. “I really am fine with it.

“Matter of fact, I want him to. I’m encouraging him to. Most definitely.”

Bears bits: Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (hand) was the only player ruled out for Sunday’s game. … Linebacker Lance Briggs (toe), tight end Matt Spaeth (ankle) and offensive tackle Jonathan Scott (groin) each was listed as probable to play. … Safety Chris Conte confirmed Friday that he was fined $21,000 for his hit against Carolina Panthers wide receiver Brandon LaFell in Week 8. Conte said he first thought the fine notification was a prank but quickly realized otherwise.

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