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Teven Jenkins’ versatility could put Charles Leno on notice

Bears GM Ryan Pace notably emphasized Jenkins’ ability to play the left side — a curious acknowledgement with Leno supposedly entrenched at left tackle — with 95 consecutive starts there.

Boise State v Oklahoma State
Bears second-round draft pick Teven Jenkins started 26 games at right tackle, seven at left tackle and two at right guard in four seasons at Oklahoma State.
Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images

When the Bears selected Oklahoma State offensive lineman Teven Jenkins with the 39th overall pick in the second round of the NFL Draft on Friday night, it was presumed that Jenkins would be plugged into their opening at right tackle — a starter eventually as a rookie if not in Week 1.

But it might not be quite as neat as that. Bears general manager Ryan Pace’ emphasis that Jenkins could play the left side — “We feel his best fit is at either tackle spot for us.” — fueled speculation about the future of veteran Charles Leno, who has started 95 consecutive games at left tackle since 2014.

The Bears still are in a salary-cap pickle after cutting right tackle Bobby Massie and cornerback Kyle Fuller. They still need to make cap room to sign their draft picks. The Bears can save $6.2 million in cap space if they cut Leno — $9 million if they cut him after June 1.

When the Bear drafted Missouri right tackle Larry Borom in the fifth round on Saturday, it only further stoked the notion that Jenkins’ future with the Bears is at left tackle. It might be sooner rather than later.

“Obviously we have high expectations for [Jenkins]. He has starting ability,” Pace said. “With him and Larry, what we liked about both of them is they can play both sides. They can play guard. There’s just so much versatility. Adding Teven and Larry were big-time additions for us. We’ll just let it battle out.”

But what does that mean for Leno? Pace wouldn’t say Saturday after the draft, a signal that Leno’s future with the Bears is at least in doubt. And Pace acknowledged that if Jenkins starts as a rookie, “it could be anywhere on our offensive line. It could be either side.”

The Bears could play Jenkins at left tackle and live with Germain Ifedi, free-agent Elijah Wilkinson or second-year pro Lachavious Simmons — or Borom, for that matter — at right tackle. They’re probably better with Leno at left tackle and Jenkins at right. But the cap situation could force them to take a chance on a Plan B lineup.

Wherever he plays, Jenkins figures to be a starter in 2021. He was rated a first-round talent — and not just by the Bears. And players drafted in his range often start as rookies. Of the 13 offensive tackles drafted from 20th to 50th overall in the past four seasons, eight of them were Week 1 starters as a rookie; 10 of them by Week 2.

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy wouldn’t be surprised. It’s a postdraft cliche for the college coach to believe his guy will be great in the NFL. But Gundy’s enthusiastic endorsement of Jenkins was notable even by that standard.

Gundy said he rates Jenkins ahead of former Oklahoma State offensive lineman Russell Okung — the sixth overall pick of the 2010 draft by the Seahawks — as an NFL prospect. Okung is a two-time Pro Bowl player who started at left tackle on the Seahawks’ back-to-back Super Bowl teams in 2013 and 2014.

“Teven is more talented than him in my opinion. He’s just scratching the surface of his ability,” Gundy said of Jenkins in a videoconference with Bears beat reporters Saturday. “He came from Topeka, Kansas. When he arrived, I don’t think he had any idea what college football was like. And just in the last year, he’s finally developed some toughness and grit that will benefit him playing in the NFL.

“I would not be surprised in two years if people are looking back and saying he is potentially the best offensive linemen taken in this draft. He has the phenomenal athleticism; strength; he’s highly intelligent; and he’s just started to really get into football over the last 18 months.”