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Teven Jenkins in line for second chance vs. Vikes

The Bears rookie struggled in a tough spot against the Packers — coming in cold for injured LT Jason Peters. “It’s part of being a rookie,” veteran lineman Cody Whitehair said. “He’ll be fine.”

Teven Jenkins
Bears rookie offensive tackle Teven Jenkins (76) played 49 snaps at left tackle against the Packers last Sunday in place of injured starter Jason Peters. They were his first snaps on offense in the NFL.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Teven Jenkins’ NFL debut on offense was one he’d probably like to forget.

Coming in cold at left tackle as a replacement for injured starter Jason Peters against the Packers at Lambeau Field last week, Jenkins was called for four penalties — two for holding, two for false starts — and allowed a strip-sack that led to a turnover.

It was a tough spot for a rookie, but Jenkins needs only to look to his immediate right to know it gets better. Left guard Cody Whitehair remembers his inauspicious NFL debut in the Bears’ season opener in 2016, when he started at center — a position he had never played — four days after being moved there when the Bears signed Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton.

“I was playing left guard the whole training camp and moved to center and had never really snapped a ball or anything like that,” Whitehair said. “And then I started studying tape, and I see who’s the nose guard — well, that was Vince Wilfork [a five-time Pro Bowl player].

“You watch a Hall of Fame guy like that growing up, and you’re like, ‘Holy cow — this is going to be my first NFL start on the road, playing a position I’ve never played before and playing against Vince Wilfork.’ I guess that was kind of my welcome to the NFL, going against a guy like that.”

Whitehair’s struggles weren’t nearly as noticeable as Jenkins’. But playing center on the road with a silent count against a defensive front that included not only Wilfork, but three-time defensive player of the year J.J. Watt and 2014 No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney proved problematic. The Texans sacked Jay Cutler five times and had 12 quarterback hits in a 23-14 victory. Whitehair’s most notable error was a bungled snap on a failed fourth-and-one sneak.

But he survived, learned and improved. Whitehair, 29, has been a mainstay on the Bears’ offensive line in his six NFL seasons. He made the Pro Football Writers’ all-rookie team in 2016, made the Pro Bowl at center as an alternate in 2018 and has missed only two games in six seasons — starting 93 of the Bears’ 95 games in that span.

So Jenkins’ debut on offense is hardly cause for alarm. Expecting excellence in an impromptu performance against the Packers was taking “plug-and-play” a little too far.

“He’s learning,” Whitehair said. “It’s part of being a rookie. It’s part of the process of coming into the league and getting a feel for it. Teven’s gonna continue to grow and continue to build throughout the year. He’ll be fine.”

Still, expectations for Monday night — or the rest of this season, for that matter — should probably be tempered. Jenkins, 23, has only been practicing since Nov. 15 after spending most of the season on injured reserve following back surgery in August. And the Bears’ offense — 31st in the NFL in yards, 28th in points — is hardly in the kind of groove that can cover for a rookie’s inexperience.

And even though Jenkins had a full week to prepare, it was a disjointed week of walkthroughs instead of live-rep practices. It’s up to Jenkins to be better against the Vikings than he was against the Packers, and it’s up to Matt Nagy & Co. to give the rookie a hand and do what coaches are supposed to do best — put the player in a position to succeed.

“Probably a little of both,” Nagy said. “We’ll be able to help him out when we need to, and his mindset will be great. It’s never easy having to jump into a game like that against a great [Packers] defense with good defensive ends, so we’ll make sure that we’re doing everything we can to give him the best opportunity.”