Justin Fields is and will continue to be the Chicago Bears’ most important player for the foreseeable future.
But if there’s one other player who could have a significant impact on the rest of the 2021 season – and, more specifically – what will happen at the end of the 2021 season, it’s Teven Jenkins.
Jenkins, who was drafted 28 picks after Fields in the 2021 NFL Draft, was supposed to be the cornerstone left tackle who would start Week 1. Instead, he was surprisingly not ready for camp. training due to back problems and, after rehabilitation and treatment failed, eventually needed back surgery in August.
On Monday, Jenkins finally returned to the training ground for the first time since the offseason schedule.
“It’s been a while since Teven has put on the pads, so we’ll start there,” Bears head coach Matt Nagy said on Monday. “Now we have to work and see where he is in terms of conditioning, physically where he is. It will be just, honestly, really, an hour-to-hour, day-to-day process with him. But it’s definitely a good thing to have, and we’re excited to release it. “
Given the impact of back surgery on an offensive lineman and the Bears’ current stalemate on the offensive line, there’s no guarantee Jenkins will even see the pitch this season. The Bears have three weeks to activate it out of the injured reserve or shut it down for the season.
But if Jenkins is able to play, it would be difficult for the Bears to leave him on the bench. The Bears’ offseason plan was to rebuild the edges of their offensive line with two draft picks and fifth-round pick Larry Borom Jr.’s early return to right tackle is promising. If Jenkins is successful, it is a victory for everyone involved, especially the general manager, head coach and quarterback.
Here’s how his recovery and development could have a big impact on the three key members of the organization:
Managing Director Ryan Pace
Despite all the criticism Pace receives, his 2021 draft class looks promising, but that largely depends on Jenkins. The choice of Justin Fields could change the franchise, and Pace may have hit more home runs late in the round with Borom and running back Khalil Herbert (round six). If Jenkins returns to the field and is able to give the offensive line a boost, that would give Pace four very good three-position, high-impact picks.
On the flip side, if Jenkins isn’t able to come back or is playing poorly, that leaves more questions about another injured player’s draft.
Pace’s comprehensive assessment of seven years in Chicago is more nuanced than some fans would like, and the most recent draft class is an important piece of that puzzle.
Head Coach Matt Nagy
A good half in Pittsburgh doesn’t change several years of struggling, but there is some credibility that Nagy’s offense could improve in the last eight games if Fields continues to rise.
And the offensive line has a lot to do with it. Jenkins’ place is complicated. If you didn’t have a rookie quarterback it might not be hard to bench 39-year-old Jason Peters for a promising rookie tackle in the middle of a losing season, but Peters was the better player. line-up and brings a ton of experience and consistency to Fields’ blind side. Meanwhile, it would be foolish to take Borom off the pitch on the right tackle.
Peters played a bit of guard for the Eagles last year, but it probably makes more sense to throw Jenkins inside to get his feet wet before moving him to tackle him. Again, what are you doing with Cody Whitehair or James Daniels? Neither do the dominant guards, but they don’t deserve to lose their jobs either. So, do you put Sam Mustipher on the bench and move Daniels or Whitehair to the center? We’ve seen this story before and changing center on Fields mid-season isn’t exactly a smart move. Mustipher has made a few mistakes this season, but he’s highly regarded for his footballing IQ, and he and Fields have developed a chemistry that you probably don’t want to play with.
How Nagy, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and offensive line coach Juan Castillo handle the situation over the next few weeks will be key. Nagy needs to give Fields the best offensive line he can offer, but the thought of starting two rookies on tackle and another at quarterback is frightening. It may be a situation where an injury dictates what happens, but it’s up to the coaching staff to get the most out of Jenkins this season without injuring the line as a whole or putting Fields in a vulnerable position.
Quarterback Justin Fields
Fields has the least of a say in this situation, but it certainly affects him. It’s no surprise that he played better in games than the offensive line played well.
That said, the dream scenario for the Bears is that they drafted their franchise quarterback and two fundamental offensive tackles in April and it would be nice to see all three of them start to build confidence and chemistry on the pitch. .
Jenkins’ situation is complicated, and how the Bears handle her over the next eight weeks will be crucial – not just in 2021, but beyond.