Nothing’s ever easy for the Bears.
Justin Fields is the most promising quarterback prospect they’ve drafted in years, yet his introduction to Bears football has been problematic all season — from the awkward pairing with Andy Dalton in training camp to the nine-sack disaster against the Browns in Week 3 to his promotion to the full-time starting job in Week 5 against the Raiders.
It has been the same rocky situation with rookie offensive tackle Teven Jenkins, the second-round pick who was drafted to immediately fill Charles Leno’s vacant spot at left tackle. As with Fields, every bit of good news has been dampened by reality.
Jenkins was considered a first-round draft pick — projected to the Bears at No. 20 overall in several mock drafts. So he seemed like a bargain when the Bears got him at 39th overall. But he arrived at training camp with a back injury, had surgery in August and spent most of the season on injured reserve.
He was activated off IR on Dec. 4 — a major victory for the Bears considering their luck with offensive-line injuries. But by then, veteran Jason Peters was entrenched at left tackle, rookie Larry Borom was established at right tackle, and there was no room for Jenkins to get the live-game experience that could jump-start his NFL career.
And when he finally got that opportunity — as a replacement for the injured Peters in the first quarter against the Packers on Sunday night at Lambeau Field — it wasn’t pretty. Jenkins committed four penalties — two holding calls and two false starts — and looked like a talented but inexperienced rookie in a 45-30 loss.
It’s likely there was nothing Jenkins could do to intrigue coach Matt Nagy and offensive line coach Juan Castillo to give him more playing time regardless of Peters’ status. But his shaky performance sealed that decision. Nagy said Peters will start against the Vikings on Monday night at Soldier Field if he’s healthy.
But opportunity could be knocking again for Jenkins. Borom was put on the reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday. If he can’t play against the Vikings, Jenkins could replace him at right tackle. Lachavious Simmons, a 2020 seventh-round pick, is the current backup to Borom on the Bears’ depth chart.
However it shakes out, the Bears are going to have to get creative if Jenkins plays. He figures to be better prepared with a full week of practice but likely will need some help against the Vikings, who rank second in the NFL in sacks per pass play.
The Bears gave Jenkins help on 16 of 32 drop-backs against the Packers, Nagy said. Even when Jenkins was beaten by Preston Smith for a strip-sack of Fields in the third quarter, the Bears had tight end Jimmy Graham chip Smith — the chip just wasn’t as effective as it needed to be for the rookie in his first NFL game.
Bears center Sam Mustipher, who was in a similar situation last season when his first NFL snaps came on the fly as an in-game injury replacement against Aaron Donald and the Rams, knows what Jenkins went through.
“Tough situation,” Mustipher said. “Anytime you have a guy who hasn’t had an opportunity to play a lot of live football snaps — not only game snaps, but just practice snaps in general — that was tough.
“Teven’s a hardworking guy, though. He’s gonna get it right. He has the mental fortitude and understanding that in this league, it’s a long game. It’s just getting the fundamentals and basics. That takes repetition. That takes experience. That’s all it is. Luckily for him, he’s young. He’s got a lot of football left in his career. It was a great learning experience.”