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Hoge’s OTAs Observations: Jennings Works As Nickelback

Bears cornerback Tim Jennings. (Getty Images)

Bears cornerback Tim Jennings. (Getty Images)

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By Adam Hoge-

LAKE FOREST (CBS) — As expected, the Bears threw first-round draft pick Kyle Fuller directly into the mix at Tuesday’s first OTA practice, but it came with a twist.

Fuller was sent onto the field in first-team nickel situations, but he didn’t line up in the slot. Instead, he lined up outside, with veteran Tim Jennings taking the nickel cornerback reps.

“I’ve been kind of wanting to play nickel since I got here,” Jennings said after practice. “So now that I have the opportunity, I’m kind of excited about it.”

Jennings said he didn’t know about the move to nickel until last week, but it’s a position he used to play in Indianapolis and a little bit when he first came to Chicago.

“You’re just another linebacker, an athletic linebacker,” Jennings said. “You have to be able to see a lot more things. You’ve got to be able to see a lot more backfield sets. It’s a lot more reads, a lot more keys, that you have to get.”

It was a little surprising to see Jennings at nickelback, mainly because Bears general manager Phil Emery hyped Fuller up as the type of versatile player who can play the role of being an extra linebacker in those situations. Of course, it might just be a matter of easing into that role because, as Jennings pointed out, there are a lot more reads you have to make in the slot. The Bears have made it clear that they want all their players to play in multiple spots within in their position grouping, and Fuller would probably be the first candidate to play outside in the base defense if either Jennings or Charles Tillman got hurt.

Keep in mind that it was just one OTA practice, but it’s obvious the Bears want to get Fuller on the field, so they’re going to experiment with the best ways to do that. And it’s important to remember that Tillman and Jennings were still the only two cornerbacks on the field in the base defense.

Other observations:

— Linebacker D.J. Williams and cornerback Derrick Martin were the only two players absent during Tuesday’s voluntary practice. No reason was given for their absences.

— Safety Chris Conte (shoulder), safety Craig Steltz (undisclosed), defensive tackle Nate Collins (knee) and left guard Matt Slauson (reportedly a shoulder) sat out practice. Slauson was the only surprise and would not provide any details on his injury, only saying: “They’re just holding me out of some things. They want to make sure that I’m OK. I’ll be good for camp, maybe before.” He added that his status for the remaining nine OTA practices is “TBD.” Eben Britton took over at left guard in his place.

— Right tackle Jordan Mills, who had offseason foot surgery, participated in full Tuesday.

— With Williams absent Tuesday, second-year linebacker Jon Bostic took over the first-team reps at middle linebacker. He stayed on the field with Lance Briggs in nickel situations, with Shea McClellin coming off. McClellin took first-team reps at strong-side linebacker and moved to the middle with the second-team unit. He handled the defensive calls with the second team as well.

— Wide receiver Domenik Hixon suffered a leg injury during practice and didn’t return after being helped off the field by trainers.

— With Conte out, M.D. Jennings worked with the first team at free safety with Ryan Mundy as the strong safety. Rookie Brock Vereen and veteran Danny McCray were the second-team safeties.

Extra point

Jordan Palmer spent nine weeks of the regular season with the Bears last year, but he wasn’t on the team during the offseason. So how did he get ready for this year’s OTAs?

Palmer watched all the film from last offseason — as in every rep from OTAs and minicamps.

“The biggest that I saw that Josh (McCown) did last year was he had a great OTAs,” Palmer said.

So, right now, that’s Palmer’s focus he tries to take over McCown’s role on and off the field.

“It’s great to be able to be here from Day 1,” Palmer said. “I took as many notes as anybody, as any of the new guys.”

Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.