A couple of years ago, when the Bears searched the free-agent market for cornerback depth, they flipped on film of Jennings, who the Colts hadn't re-signed. Nothing impressed coach Lovie Smith more than how the 5-foot-8 Jennings competed against the 6-3 Johnson.
"You have to do your own research, and we did ours,'' Smith said. "We saw how well Tim competed against (Johnson). And he had a really good game against (the Cardinals' Larry) Fitzgerald."
Smith became completely sold on Jennings after getting recommendations from former Colts defensive coordinator Ron Meeks and current Colts quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen.
"They wouldn't lead me wrong,'' Smith said. "They had nothing but great things to say about Tim.''
To say Jennings revived his career with the Bears would be an understatement. The former Colts second-round pick has worked tirelessly on his hands and now leads the NFL with six interceptions. He has reincarnated himself into a likely Pro Bowler. He has one of the Bears' seven pick-sixes, a team-high 12 pass breakups and is fifth on the team with 46 tackles.
"Tim's a scrappy guy who just competes with everybody,'' Brian Urlacher said. "Most of the receivers are taller than him, but he doesn't get pushed around. He's as physical as hell.''
Jennings probably won't body up against Johnson on Sunday night unless fellow cornerback Charles "Peanut'' Tillman misses the game for the birth of his fourth child. While Tillman has commanded national attention for his outstanding play and heartfelt family commitment, the other' corner threatens to leave his mark on the Texans if they challenge him.
"I look at it as if I'm going to get a whole lot more opportunities,'' Jennings said. "Things are going to come my way because they have to stay away from Peanut. All I have to do is make two or three plays to put our defense in good position, and then they'll shy away from me, too.''
Jennings continues to shy away from the media swarm his sudden success has created. He never imagined his star would rise to this level, not when football was once an afterthought.
Taking a pass
Tommy Brown, the football coach at Orangeburg-Wilkinson (S.C.) High, recalled the first time he saw Jennings change direction and pick off a pass.
It was on the hardwood, not on grass.
"We actually had to get Tim off the basketball court,'' Brown said. "One of my coaches saw this kid playing point guard, and we didn't think basketball was going to be his future at 5-8. So we convinced him during his 10th-grade year to come out for football.''
Jennings laughed when reminded of his hoop dreams.
"My plan was to be the varsity starter (at point guard), but I quit after 10th grade,'' he said. "I wasn't playing nearly as much as I thought I would.
"I understood their pitch for me to play football. It made sense. I was 5-8 and wasn't growing.''
Nevertheless, Jennings' growth as a football player was immeasurable. Brown recalled how he took Jennings to the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas, an all-star matchup between the 40 best players from North and South Carolina.