Tim Jennings was probably one of the most underrated defensive players in Chicago Bears history. When he was signed in 2010, nobody took much notice of it. They thought the 5’7 cornerback was little more than depth who could contribute on special teams. Before anybody knew it, he emerged as the starter opposite Charles Tillman. After just three interceptions his first two years, he exploded for 13 over the next two. That earned him back-to-back Pro Bowl honors.
For the first time in years, Jennings had a chance to speak about his career in football and his experiences in Chicago with Ty Dunne of Go Long. It became clear right away that he revered his teammates with the Bears like Tillman, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, and Julius Peppers. That three-year run with them was the most fun he ever had. However, in his mind it didn’t achieve the heights it should’ve.
Why? Because of the Bears’ offense
Jennings didn’t mince words on the subject. While the offensive side had some really talented players, they never managed to mesh like the defense did. The primary reason for that was a lack of leadership. Nobody was willing to sacrifice for the better of the team. They had a bunch of “me” guys.
We never clicked as a whole team, a whole unit and part of the reason was we had some “me” guys on the offensive side of the ball. To be honest with you, that’s what it was. We had “me” guys.
The person Jennings seemed to take issue with the most was Jay Cutler? For the cornerback, it was so frustrating to watch the Bears QB operate. He had all the talent in the world. He could’ve been great. Yet his mentality betrayed him. That ‘don’t care’ attitude everybody jokes about? It was real. Cutler didn’t have the work ethic or leadership necessary to be what the team needed.
“You can surround him with as much talent as you can. You’ve got a good defense. You’ve got a quarterback who can make all the throws. But if you don’t have that leader? At the quarterback position? It does trickle down a little bit. It’s going to affect what you do on offense.”
Jennings knew Cutler from their college days. Both played in the SEC, Jenning at Georgia and Cutler at Vanderbilt. He knew even back then the QB was missing something as a leader. That was only reinforced after he was exposed to Peyton Manning in Indianapolis.
“What you saw with Jay on the field, that’s how he was in the locker room. That’s not good. That’s not good being a leader…You’ve got to win over that locker room and that building first. As you win games, then you’re going to win the fan base. For me, I didn’t think Jay was ever that guy…I never thought he was that leader. I don’t know if the scouts thought differently. They probably saw talent. But I don’t think he was ever a leader. So when Jay got in the locker room, that’s who he was!”
Tim Jennings has every reason to be bitter
Cutler was a big reason the team failed to reach its full potential from 2010 to 2012. He was flat in the NFC championship before injuring his knee against the Packers. He broke his thumb in 2011 and was likely a big reason offensive coordinator Mike Martz was fired. Then in 2012, he ignored the rest of the offense in favor of feeding Brandon Marshall to the tune of 192 targets. The next closest was Matt Forte with 59.
Smart quarterbacks who are good leaders don’t do stuff like that. It is a big reason why the team fell apart after cornerstones like Urlacher and Olin Kreutz left. As the team put more demands on him for leadership, he failed to answer the bell. His shortcomings were never more evident than in 2013 when Josh McCown, a career backup, got more out of the offense than he did despite being an inferior talent. This due to his intelligence and excellent leadership skills. Tim Jennings knows what he saw.
It is just unfortunate.
Cutler was a good player. He had some truly great moments in Chicago. It’s just the lack of consistency that did him in. This because he didn’t have the grinding mentality necessary to be great. Nor any true interest in making the offense his own. Nothing was ever his fault. It was the offensive line being bad, it was the wide receivers not being good enough, and it was the coaching being dumb. That isn’t what leaders do.