Second-round pick Teven Jenkins’ back surgery Wednesday brought back memories of former first-round pick Kevin White, perhaps the franchise’s biggest draft bust, who missed his entire rookie season in 2015 after having shin surgery during training camp.
Jenkins’ situation, though, more closely mirrors that of fellow left tackle Chris Williams, whom the Bears drafted 14th overall 13 years ago.
As a rookie, Williams left the second day of training-camp practice with a back injury. One week into August, he had surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back. Williams said at the time that it was an old college injury that didn’t bother him until he felt the disc shift in practice. He returned that season, but didn’t start.
The next year, he was supplanted at left tackle by Orlando Pace and moved to right tackle, where he started for 2½ seasons before being cut in the middle of the 2012 season.
Jenkins — who hurt his lower back at Oklahoma State last year before opting out — has to hope for a better fate.
“We were aware of [his] back issues in college, but these are symptoms that are new,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “So this is something we’re dealing with. He’s at a point right now where we were trying different things to see if we could stay away from this.”
Nagy put his usual positive spin on crushing news, saying that “it sounds like once this happens and you get the surgery, that things should be fixed and pretty good.”
The Bears didn’t rule out Jenkins returning to action later this year. Still, there’s no way they can count on Jenkins returning until 2022.
As was the case with White, the Bears said initially they were not concerned about the injury. On the first day of training-camp practice, Nagy said Jenkins would sit out with “back tightness.” Five days later, Nagy said he was “trending in the right direction.”
It was clear Saturday that they were planning for the worst, though. They signed left tackle Jason Peters, an 18-year vet and a nine-time Pro Bowl player who appeared in eight games for the Eagles last year. He’ll turn 40 in January. Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady is currently the only 40-year-old in the NFL.
Peters is expected to practice with the Bears on Thursday after five days of coronavirus intake testing. He figures to be the Bears’ Week 1 starter at left tackle.
This was not the plan, of course.
The Bears traded up to draft Jenkins — giving the Panthers second-, third- and sixth-round picks for Jenkins and a fifth-rounder — and decided to move him from right tackle, where many around the league thought he fit best, to the left side. They immediately cut reliable veteran left tackle Charles Leno to save salary-cap space.
Training camp would be essential to Jenkins’ position switch. Instead, he never played a down.
His absence was compounded by right tackle Germain Ifedi landing on the physically unable-to-perform list — where he remains — after hurting his hip during the team’s welcome-to-camp conditioning drill.
Most days during camp, Jenkins rehabbed the injury while his teammates practiced. He was not spotted Monday, though.
“[Jenkins] is young and he still has so much time to develop and grow into a very great player . . .” guard James Daniels said. “If he misses a full season or not, the good news is he has the full offseason. . . . That’s the good news for Teven.”
Wednesday, though, was about the bad news.
“When you get to the word ‘surgery,’ obviously everyone gets concerned, you don’t want to hear that,” Nagy said. “But the goal is to get him back this year.”