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Bears rookie OT Teven Jenkins feeling 18 years old again

The second-round draft pick missed most of the season after back surgery in August. He’s unlikely to play on offense with LT Jason Peters in front of him, but at this point, he’s just glad to be healthy.

Teven Jenkins
Bears rookie offensive tackle Teven Jenkins (76) played on two PAT attempts against the Cardinals on Sunday. They were his first snaps of the season after recovering from back surgery in August.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Playing through an injury is part of the toughness that makes football players who they are. Unless your draft status is on the line. Then, sitting out while your teammates carry on is a “business decision.”

Bears rookie offensive tackle Teven Jenkins has lived both of those football realities in the last 12 months. He sat out after getting injured at Oklahoma State to prepare for the draft. But when he felt pain in his legs during introductory practices after being drafted by the Bears, he wasn’t about to become a “100 percenter” — the guy who only plays when he’s 100% healthy. He went from businessman to football player and played through it.

“[In] a new place, new people, of course you don’t want to show up here and show people [that] if he’s a little hurt he can’t go,” said Jenkins, the 39th overall pick in the 2021 draft. “You never want to be that guy. If you get a little bit hurt, you’ve got to play through it. That’s how football is. If you want to survive, you’ve got to keep on playing. That’s what everybody’s doing.”

And even when the pain lingered as training camp approached, Jenkins kept working and kept hoping that the pain would go away. It never did. In fact, it got worse.

“Ultimately, it was different symptoms from what was going on in college,’’ Jenkins said. ‘‘It was a whole different situation. I probably pushed myself out there a little bit faster because I had that urge . . . I wanted to get back on the field. I don’t care if it’s hurt, and maybe I did push myself a little bit too much and made it a little worse.

“It’s the pain — [in] my nerves, in my legs, down my legs. It was just terrible. It was unbearable. Sometimes [when] I took steps, it was bad. Anything — getting up out of my seat — it was bad. It was totally different than what I was dealing with [before].”

It ended up costing Jenkins most of his rookie season when he had back surgery in August. General manager Ryan Pace was confident this was a one-time incident that would not affect Jenkins’ NFL career.

“We feel like the issue is fixed,” Pace said in September. “We’re excited about him going forward. We feel like the problem is solved.”

With all due respect to Pace and his optimism, that won’t be known until Jenkins proves it on the field. And he took the first steps toward that against the Cardinals on Sunday, when Jenkins played left tackle on two extra points by Cairo Santos.

“[It felt] great,” Jenkins said. “I got two snaps, so that’s great progression from where it was a couple of months ago. I’m very glad where I’m at.”

The 6-6, 321-pound Jenkins still has a long road on his comeback trail, but the early signs are positive. He said he feels 100% healthy, the best he has felt in a long time.

“Probably 18 years old — fresh out of high school going to college,” Jenkins, 23, said. “Feel like a young buck.”

The next step is for Jenkins to play on offense, but that could be awhile. Offensive line coach Juan Castillo is content for Jenkins to watch and learn from future Hall of Famer Jason Peters — though Castillo didn’t rule out Jenkins playing in short-yardage situations.

“It’s all about trusting the process,” Jenkins said. “[Peters] is a Hall of Famer. He’s greatness. So I have no problem sitting behind Jason Peters right now and learning. Because I trust what the Bears and coach Castillo and coach [Matt] Nagy have in store for me. I trust them all. And I believe it’s the right path for me.”