BOURBONNAIS — In title, at least, Alan Ball is the heir apparent to Charles Tillman.
In practicality, he could be the best thing that ever happened to Tim Jennings.
The veteran prefers to think about neither right now. It’s too soon, just a few days into Bears training camp, to know whether he’ll assume Tillman’s position: as an outside cornerback opposite Kyle Fuller, allowing Jennings to cover the slot.
“We’re so early in things you can’t really tell,” Ball said. “The first thing I want to do is get myself going and get my feet wet and get back to getting the rust off and getting things going.
“Tim is a helluva player. Kyle is a helluva player. And we got a lotta helluva-players that haven’t been mentioned. Between all of us, I think it’s going to be a good role of competition just to see who gets on the field.”
That was the plan when the Bears signed the 6-1, 176-pound Illinois alum this offseason. After starting 22 of 23 games with the Jaguars, Ball suffered a left biceps injury that ended his season and prompted November surgery. Because of left shoulder and biceps injuries — his first serious health problems in eight years as a pro — the Bears held him out during Organized Team Activities.
“It hasn’t been a joyous road,” he said. “You have to be very patient.”
The payoff, though, could be big.
“I like his size, I like his length, I like hisballskills,” GM Ryan Pace said.
Ball would give the Bears another imposing cornerback to play Vic Fangio’s more physical style. And a move inside, to cover the slot receiver, would help rejuvenate Jennings after an underwhelming 2014.
Jennings started last season at the slot, but moved back outside after Tillman was lost for the season in Week 3.
“I think it’ll stick more this year,” Jennings said. “With the defense we’ll be running now, it fits well to what I’m trying to do, what they’ll want me to do. Have guys on the outside that contribute well, get the right guys in place.”
Coach John Fox said Jennings has the skillset to do.
“You know, you’re replacing a linebacker, basically, when you’re going in the middle of the defense,” he said. “So mentally you have to be pretty sharp.”
Just don’t tell Ball he’s replacing Tillman.
“The things he did over the course of his career here, I mean everybody in the league saw that,” he said. “He made a place in history for himself. I don’t really think there’s any replacing him.
“But what I do think is, I think the guys we’ve got here, we can make it a special secondary if we keep working like we’re working. I see that in these guys.”
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