With no first-round pick in the 2022 draft, it will be another 18 months before the Bears will be able to infuse high-level rookie talent into their roster. They still have a chance to add one such player, however: Rookie offensive tackle Teven Jenkins, who had back surgery three months ago, returned to practice Monday.
The Bears have 21 days to pull Jenkins off injured reserve or keep him there for the rest of the season. Jenkins figures to need most, if not all, that time to get into shape. He hasn’t worn pads in a practice in almost a calendar year after opting out of Oklahoma State’s 2020 season in late November, two weeks after hurting his back.
The Bears knew of Jenkins’ back problems before trading their second-, third- and sixth-round picks to the Panthers for the No. 39 pick, which they used to draft Jenkins, and a fifth-rounder. Within days, the team cut left tackle Charles Leno and installed Jenkins, who had played mostly on the right side at Oklahoma State, at the position.
Jenkins didn’t play a second of training camp, however. Shortly after the Bears agreed to sign Jason Peters, Jenkins had surgery Aug. 18. General manager Ryan Pace said two weeks later that Jenkins had experienced symptoms that were different from any he felt in college and that surgery ‘‘solved’’ the problem.
The Bears have invested a lot in Jenkins. His return to action — even if it’s only for the last month of the season — is essential for a team looking to chart its future.
Peters has been serviceable in his place, starting all nine games in what might be the final season of his Hall of Fame career. Offensive line coach Juan Castillo said Peters, whom he first coached in 2009 with the Eagles, is ‘‘getting better and better,’’ noting that ‘‘we’re trying to win games.’’
Peters, however, is 39 and is unlikely to be on the Bears’ roster next season.
Coach Matt Nagy said the Bears’ focus is on playing ‘‘the best 53’’ on game day, not choosing a roster based on age, but he maintained Jenkins qualifies either way.
‘‘There’s also, too, the part of having youth,’’ he said. ‘‘And having guys [who] . . . might be part of that 53 and help make you the best offense, defense and special teams for that week.’’
Castillo detailed the basics Jenkins needs to focus on, from mastering the snap count to learning not to hitch forward before taking his first step. He said it will take at least a few weeks for him to get caught up, and that’s assuming he stays healthy. He’ll wear pads for the first time Wednesday.
‘‘Just work him into it,’’ Castillo said. ‘‘I don’t wanna go backward. I want to just take our time — a little bit, a little bit — until we see that he’s healthy enough to be able to do the things we’d like him to do.’’
Jenkins played left tackle during the Bears’ light practice Monday, but Castillo said he’ll train on both sides. Larry Borom, another rookie, has garnered positive reviews at right tackle in the last two games.
Nagy said Jenkins is eager to return, even though the road back will take some time.
‘‘We’ll see how he is,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘He’s a competitor. You all saw that when we drafted him. You see the type of mean streak he has. You see how much he loves football, how much his teammates really appreciate him and he appreciates them. . . .
‘‘Now we get to work through and see where he’s at conditioning-wise, physically where he’s at. It’s just gonna be, honestly, an hour-by-hour, day-by-day process with him. But it’s definitely a good thing to have, and we’re excited to get him out there.’’