M.D. Jennings wasn’t even drafted by the Green Bay Packers, so in that sense, he beat the odds by making the team three years ago. But after starting for the past year and a half (including every game last season), Green Bay had seen enough.
“It’s something I was prepared for going into free agency. It was out of my control,” Jennings said after Tuesday’s Bears OTA at Halas Hall. “When they decided not to bring me back there were no hard feelings. I just look at it as one chapter closing and another beginning.”
While the Packers’ most impactful defensive player, Clay Matthews, missed five games, and their three-year starter opposite Jennings, Morgan Burnett, had a subpar season of his own, Jennings heard a lot of the same things Chris Conte and Major Wright did with the Bears. Many up north pointed their fingers at the safety play as their defense plummeted from 11th overall in 2012 to 25th last season. So even if Jennings saw it coming and claimed to have no hard feelings in his previous quote, his next contradicts that.
“It puts a chip on your shoulder, something you’ll never forget. So you just try to get better and let that motivate you.”
Bears GM Phil Emery decided not to spend his early free agency cash on the two elite safeties available, Jairus Byrd and T.J. Ward, but used more conservative cash on the first day on former New York Giants safety Ryan Mundy, who seems set to replace Wright. The Jennings signing came two days later, under the premise of throwing him into a competition with Conte, Craig Steltz, ex-Dallas Cowboy Danny McCray, and, eventually, fourth-round draft pick Brock Vereen. Not Calvin Pryor or HaHa Clinton-Dix, whom the Packers were delighted was still there when they selected 21st in the first round.
“When I talked to (the Bears) they asked me if I was willing to come here," Jennings said. "I told them 'without a doubt.' I'm loyal to whichever team’s helmet I put on. That’s who I represent. Competition brings out the best in everyone. We’re not enemies or anything like that, we’re all working together, pushing each other, trying to get better.”
And that’s the idea with Jennings, who’ll be exposed to new coaching and, health-willing, behind a much higher-quality and more versatile front seven. He knows the rap against him while he wore the Green and Gold, and he is aware that’s what his Bears predecessors also heard.
“Making sure I get better pad leverage, making sure I get guys on the ground...try not to miss tackles and be in the right position at the right time.”
The other Jennings he joins in the Bears’ secondary also had his critics early in his career with the Indianapolis Colts, and later upon signing with Chicago in 2010. But Tim Jennings (a second-round pick, despite being undersized) worked hard on his game, his athleticism and especially his hands, to eventually become a Pro Bowl cornerback.
While M.D. Jennings couldn’t reach the levels the Packers wanted going up in practices against the likes of Aaron Rodgers, James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley, he’s aware of a similar opportunity with the Bears. It’s a different set of weapons testing him before any true measure of improvement can be evaluated with Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett coming at him.
“I’m fortunate to go against these guys every day in practice, and not on Sunday.”