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Hoge: What to expect from Teven Jenkins in debut

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The Bears are finally going to get their presumptive future left tackle in a uniform. He’s just not expected to play a whole lot Sunday against the Cardinals.

Teven Jenkins, who the team traded up for in the 2021 NFL Draft and selected with the 39th overall pick, will be activated from injured reserve Saturday, according to Bears head coach Matt Nagy. 

“He's worked really hard to get to this point so now our intention will be there to activate him so that's good,” Nagy said.

Jenkins has practiced the last three weeks after recovering from back surgery in August. According to a team spokesperson, the 21-day practice window was set to expire Monday. Moving Jenkins to the 53-man roster Saturday is a strong indication he’ll be active Sunday when the Bears host the Cardinals.

“If that's the case and we end up finally activating him, we'll have him ready depth-wise for us, and trying to figure out again where that is,” Nagy said.

When the Bears drafted Jenkins in the spring, they openly talked about their desire to play him at left tackle, even though he primarily played right tackle at Oklahoma State. The team even released longtime left tackle Charles Leno Jr. shortly after drafting Jenkins. But after working with the team during the offseason program, Jenkins developed back problems, which were also an issue at Oklahoma State. They initially tried to treat the issue with rest and rehab, but that didn’t work and surgery was necessary. That led to the signing of 39-year-old left tackle Jason Peters, who has been the team’s best offensive lineman this season and is not expected to be benched just because Jenkins is back. 

 

“When you draft a guy you're always anticipating how he's going to play … but at the same point in time, (Jenkins) provides a lot of depth to us and we have a position there at left tackle where Jason Peters is playing pretty well,” Nagy said. “I think for Teven to be able to come on in and get going we just kind of play it out, but it's a good problem to have.”

Nagy indicated earlier this week that they are still leaning towards using Jenkins as a left tackle, but it sounds like that situation is still fluid. The Bears also drafted Larry Borom Jr. out of Missouri in the fifth round and he took over as the starting right tackle four games ago. Both Nagy and Borom admitted this week that the rookie can improve his pad level in the run game, but he’s still playing at a high enough level to stay in the starting lineup. That creates an issue with how to utilize Jenkins now that he’s ready to play. Friday, Nagy shot down the idea of a rotation at right tackle between the two rookies. 

“I think probably in the middle of the season it would be difficult. I don't know if that's necessarily fair to those players,” Nagy said. “That's just from the discussions that we've all had and talked about. If you're early on in the season or say it's preseason or training camp, etc., you can kind of get away with that, but right now with where we're at — I really think, too, that Larry's done a good job of being able to come in and do what he's done.”

That means you shouldn’t expect any changes to the Bears’ offensive line this week. Barring an injury, Sunday’s game will amount to preseason work for Jenkins, who will put on a uniform and go through warmups with the team for the first time. 

“That's what's nice about those preseason games, there's just little things you want to do. For him, it's gonna be that,” Nagy said. “At the same point in time, if you're up and you've got the pads on and you're out there, you better be ready because you never know.”

It would make sense for the Bears to utilize Jenkins on the field goal unit, but it’s also reasonable to expect him to be the swing tackle, backing up both Peters and Borom. Perhaps the Bears will also use Jenkins as the eligible tackle in heavy sets just to get him a handful of reps on offense. Maybe Nagy will get crazy and even design a touchdown catch for the rookie in his Soldier Field debut.

Regardless, Jenkins’ return is a positive development for the Bears, who didn’t commit to him even returning this season. They were hopeful he would eventually get to play as a rookie, but with back surgery, you never know. 

 

"Man, I’m glad to see him out there just doing it. He done been through a lot,” Borom said. “He’s somebody I can call a brother for sure. To see him out here doing what he loves, it means the world to everybody.”

After not being able to lift weights or keep up his conditioning following the surgery, Jenkins faced a tough road back to playing shape this season. He ramped up his conditioning work during the team’s trip to Pittsburgh Nov. 8, and then had his 21-day practice window open up following the team’s bye week. With that window ending, the Bears either needed to elevate Jenkins to the 53-man roster by Monday or shut him down for the season. 

“It’s good to have him back out there and for him to start to get some of these live reps and get back into the mix,” quarterback Andy Dalton, who will start Sunday’s game against the Cardinals, said. “Dealing with injury and not having those opportunities to be out there is obviously tough for a rookie, but we’ve been able to see some really good things from him and just getting him comfortable with everything we’re doing out there.”

Since the surgery, teammates have raved about Jenkins' work and focus in meetings, even when he couldn’t do any physical activity. Assuming the back issues don’t flare up again, the Bears remain high on his future in the NFL.

“Mindset-wise, that's what I've been impressed with with Teven. I really believe he's grown a lot from the day he got here until now, mentally, with just understanding how this game works,” Nagy said. “With any of the pain he was having and if that affected any of his play, now he feels good, so that helps you mentally, too. At the same point in time, you've gotta go out and always be ready. You just never know. I think for him, he's going to be excited to have that opportunity.”

For now, it sounds like that opportunity will be limited to reserve work, but you know the Bears want to see what they have in their second round draft pick. Expect them to pick their spots to get Jenkins on the field.

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