LAKE FOREST – Heavyweight bouts are overrated.
If you want to watch one of the best battles Sunday at Soldier Field, look to the lightweights. The Bears (1-1) will host the St. Louis Rams (1-1), and both teams will be counting on the performances of one of their smallest players to have a big effect on the outcome.
In one corner, standing 5-foot-8 and weighing 185 pounds, Bears cornerback Tim Jennings.
In the other corner, standing 5-foor-11 and weighing 188 pounds, Rams wide receiver Danny Amendola.
Jennings has watched film of his upcoming foe, and he has come away impressed.
“He’s a workaholic,” Jennings said Thursday after practice. “He works hard every play.
“I think that we see he’s the go-to guy. He wants to get the ball. We expect for them to try to run their offense through him.”
That might be especially true if Rams running back Steven Jackson is unable to play because of a groin injury. Jackson missed his second consecutive practice Thursday because of a groin injury, and his status for Sunday’s game is uncertain.
In part because of his small stature and reliable hands, Amendola has drawn comparisons with veteran New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker. Both players attended Texas Tech and were overlooked by NFL scouts, instead entering the NFL as undrafted free agents.
Like the Patriots with Welker, the Rams often send Amendola into motion before the snap to try to create matchup problems for the defense. That means Jennings or fellow cornerback Charles Tillman might defend Amendola on one play, while a linebacker might be forced to defend him on the next play.
One of those linebackers is Brian Urlacher, who insists that his balky knee is feeling better.
“He’s a good receiver,” Urlacher said. “You get him matched up with a backer or anyone with outside leverage, and he’s going to run away from him. They had a lot of play-action, a lot of motion, and he just got open. He caught seven balls in the first 10 or 12 plays.”
Amendola was even busier in Week 2 than Urlacher remembered.
Rams quarterback Sam Bradford targeted Amendola on seven of the team’s first eight plays. One play was negated because of a defensive holding penalty, but Amendola had six catches for 55 yards before Jackson, Brandon Gibson or any other member of the Rams’ offense had touched the ball.
All told, Amendola caught 15 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown in a 31-28 win against the Redskins. He was targeted 16 times, which means only one pass to him fell incomplete.
Bears coach Lovie Smith noted that 12 of Amendola’s receptions came in the first half.
“That says quite a bit, doesn't it?” Smith said. “They're using him all different ways in every position. You see him in their two tight ends, two running backs package, outside as a traditional wide receiver, in the slot. It's hard to really get a bead on exactly where he'll go, but we feel comfortable with our guys where he lines up.”
If he lines up outside, Jennings will be ready. In two games, Jennings has established a career high with three interceptions to go along with nine tackles and three pass break-ups.
“I’m feeling real comfortable about the situation I’m in right now,” Jennings said. “The coaches are giving me a lot of confidence, giving me a lot of freedom just to go out there and make plays. I think that’s contributed a lot to me going out there and trying to make some plays on the ball.
“But it’s still early. I’m off to a fast start, but the big thing is about finishing.”
Bears bits: Running back Matt Forte (ankle) missed practice Thursday, and his status is uncertain for Sunday’s game. … Urlacher (knee) was held out of practice as part of the team’s plan to limit his workload during the week. … Defensive end Julius Peppers returned to practice after sitting out the previous session because of a sore foot.