Bears cornerback Tim Jennings is used to fighting for his job, but he'll have to fight a little bit harder to keep it this season.
Jennings has been productive in two seasons with the Bears -- beating out Zack Bowman in 2010 and winning the job in training camp in 2011. He is Lovie Smith's kind of tackler and has recovery speed to make up for most of his mistakes. But he struggled late in the season when the Bears needed the defense to carry the team after Jay Cutler suffered a broken thumb -- Bowman started in Week 16 against the Packers. And Jennings' inability to capitalize on interception opportunities (he has three picks in two seasons) only made him more of a target for an upgrade for 2012.
It's still Jennings' job to win, but he'll have to beat out more than Bowman this time. The Bears added veterans Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Wilhite in the offseason and drafted two other cornerbacks who probably will be special-teams players but can't be counted out: Isaiah Frey of Nevada in the sixth round and Greg McCoy of Texas Christian in the seventh.
"It's going to be real competitive,'' Jennings said after the Bears' practice Wednesday at Halas Hall. ''I know some of these guys, I know them pretty well, and I got a chance to watch them and see what they can bring to the game.
Jennings, a good team player, seems to understand that as an undersized cornerback -- he's 5-8, 185 -- he needs competition to be as good as he can be, even if it puts his starting job at risk. After getting benched against the Packers last year, he started in the finale against the Vikings and had an interception, eight tackles, a tackle-for-loss and a pass-breakup in the Bears' 17-13 victory at the Metrodome.
''Overall we've made a great improvement in the secondary, whether I'm out there or not,'' said Jennings, 28, a second-round draft pick by the Indianpolis Colts in 2006. ''It's just to get me to continue to work on some of the things that I need to work on. It's going to be a competitive camp.
''There's a lot of talent. It's just going to have to make me step up my game a little bit more and get me to go out there and continue to work hard and get better at some things."
Little if anything that happens at an ''organized team activity'' (OTA) is telltale. But it's worth noting that Jennings dropped one interception on a pass from Jay Cutler to Brandon Marshall on Wednesday, then got one later in the practice. The Bears trying to upgrade their defense a little less subtly than their offense, which means holdover players just have to play better than they did in 2011. Those who ''make plays,'' which in Smith's defense means creating turnovers, are likely to win out.
"We haven't really made any really changes on defense,'' Jennings said. ''We just have to go out there and do our job a little bit better and rely on the guy next to you just to step up a little bit. It starts with myself and every guy is going to take accountability.''