Bears rookie offensive tackle Teven Jenkins considers himself a fast learner. We’ll see about that.
The second-round draft pick (39th overall) from Oklahoma State prides himself on his versatility but has played primarily on the right side since his pee-wee football days. Now he’s making a transition to left tackle in place of Charles Leno, who was released earlier this month. That’s a challenging move at almost any level but particularly so in the NFL, with the best pass rushers often lining up against the left tackle for the best shot at a quarterback’s blind side.
“Just muscle memory,” Jenkins said, “where you keep on doing it over and over and over until your body’s used to it, and you keep on doing it over and over until it just feels normal, like everyday life. I’m about to become left-handed because that’s how I have to carry myself.”
The Bears cut Leno with Jenkins in mind, and now the 6-6, 320-pound native of Topeka, Kansas, is technically back where he started last season. In Oklahoma State’s 2020 opener, he started at left tackle, but two injuries against Tulsa forced the Cowboys into immediate juggling that ended up with Jenkins returning to right tackle for the next six games.
That prevented NFL teams from seeing what Jenkins could do at left tackle. But it also gave the Bears some insight into his character.
“You talk about an unselfish kid,” Bears offensive line coach Juan Castillo said. “The first game, the right tackle got hurt. So the third tackle [Jake Springfield], Teven is dating his sister. Teven goes over to Jake and says, ‘Hey, which side do you feel more comfortable [on]?’ And Jake says, ‘I feel more comfortable at left.’ So Teven says, ‘You play left. I’ll go play right.’ ”
That says a lot about Jenkins, but it still leaves his ability to play left tackle in the NFL a mystery. The Bear are counting on his athletic ability and versatility to make the transition happen with minimum hiccups.
“Teven has God-given ability, and it’s my job to get that God-given ability to produce and perform,” Castillo said.
It might not be immediate or seamless. Even Castillo acknowledges that making changes in technique can be tricky.
“Some guys take longer than others,” he said.
Jenkins took some baby steps on the first day of rookie minicamp Friday at Halas Hall — a long, long way from a real introduction to the position. But he knows he’s merely at “start.” He’s pegged to be the Week 1 starter, but that’s a long way away.
“Right now, I’m not even worried about that,” he said. “I’m worried about just getting in, knowing my plays, knowing players, getting to know my teammates, getting my feet wet in the scheme, doing all the techniques. That’s in the back of my head. Right now, it’s for me to develop and progress, and if it comes to [starting at left tackle], that’s what it comes to because that’s what I’m here to do. Right now, I’m just trying to learn everything I can.”
Jenkins has a lot to learn — about left tackle, the NFL, the Bears and Chicago. He had never been here before arriving for this minicamp.
“I’ve never seen a skyscraper in person before — I definitely want to check it out,” he said. “I’m definitely excited for pizza, because I’m a big guy and I want to eat some more. Just getting to know more people around this area, make more friendships — that’s something I’m looking forward to.”