LAKE FOREST — We’re a week into training camp and the pads are finally on. The excuses are waning.
This season marks my 12th year covering the Bears and I’m thrilled to continue that coverage for CHGO. My weekly “Bears Things” column has been going strong since 2014 and I’m excited that we’re making it available as a newsletter now. This week’s newsletter is free to all, but to continue to receive it throughout the season, I hope you’ll take the leap and become a CHGO member (the free t-shirt is worth it).
We’ll start this week’s Bears Things with the mysterious absence of Teven Jenkins. We’ll also chat with Cole Kmet about his growing chemistry with Justin Fields, examine the Bears’ rookies, and reveal the best/worst from the first week of training camp in Lake Forest.
The Lead: Another wasted draft pick?
When the Bears suddenly demoted Teven Jenkins to the second-team offensive line during the offseason program, it seemed significant. While the new coaching staff downplayed the move, it elevated fifth-round rookie Braxton Jones — who played for 1-10 Southern Utah last season — to the first-team left tackle position. Jones could go on to wear a gold jacket in Canton and a move like that in June of his rookie season would still seem curious.
Fast forward to last week, when the Bears signed veteran left tackle Riley Reiff to a one-year contract, and it became very apparent that the new regime isn’t exactly excited about Jenkins, the second-year tackle they inherited from former Bears general manager Ryan Pace.
Last Wednesday’s practice was the first and only time Jenkins has taken the field for a training camp practice in two seasons as a Bear. Now we’ll wait and see if it was his last ever practice with the team. Jenkins has been mysteriously absent ever since and the NFL Network reported Monday the Bears are taking trade calls on the former 39th overall pick.
But what exactly are the Bears going to get in return? To recap: Many teams had Jenkins completely off their draft boards in 2021 because of concerns about his back. The offensive tackle then had back surgery in August of 2021 and looked ill-prepared while playing just 161 snaps in December and January. Since then, Jenkins was demoted in OTAs and now is mysteriously absent from practice while “working with trainers,” according to head coach Matt Eberflus.
Casting doubt about Jenkins’ availability/durability isn’t exactly a brilliant trade strategy. Perhaps Jenkins is the one refusing to practice because he wants out. Either way, there are legitimate questions inside Halas Hall about the offensive tackle’s desire to do what it takes to succeed at the NFL level.
Sadly, barring a drastic turn of events, Jenkins looks like another wasted draft pick for the Chicago Bears.
5 questions with… Cole Kmet
Cole Kmet is well aware he only has two touchdowns in two NFL seasons. In fact, he’s on a 21-game scoreless drought.
But he’s not worried about it.
That’s because he’s also well aware that he played in an offense that was allergic to the red zone in 2021. And remember how Justin Fields didn’t get any reps with the first-team in training camp last year? That didn’t just affect former Bears receiver Allen Robinson. Kmet was a victim of the lack of chemistry too.
Those days are over now. Kmet is clearly a favorite target of Fields. And when he wasn’t getting reps with Fields in the offseason, the tight end worked on 50/50 balls with his little brother, Cooper, a sophomore at Saint Viator High School in Arlington Heights.
“We were just doing different types of drills like being hit and things like that,” Kmet said. “You just try different difficult catches, working on hand-eye coordination stuff.”
The emerging chemistry with Fields is what could lead to a breakout season for the third-year tight end this season.
A week into training camp, Kmet sat down for five questions with CHGO:
1. What is your favorite thing about the new offense?
Man. The speed of it. I think that’s the No. 1 thing. You see with the wide zone stuff, play-action, movements, and we got a fast quarterback so being able to use that — the speed of the offense has been a lot of fun so far. Using different snap counts, all those things, getting off the ball, but the speed has been my favorite thing so far.
2. What’s a better feeling: Catching a touchdown pass or blowing someone up on a key block to spring a touchdown run?
Wow. I mean, personally, I have to say touchdown (catch). Touchdown is cool. But when you’re in the meeting room and get a nice block and it shows up on the screen, that’s a lot of fun as well. You get a lot of hootin’ and hollerin’ with that one.
3. Speaking of scoring touchdowns, what is the key to scoring more of those this season?
Yeah, first of all, I think just being in good situations in terms of in the low red (zone). Being put in good situations … Second for me is just getting with Justin and making sure we’re on the same page with how you want to throw things. Just getting a feel for one another. That will continue to grow over camp. You know, that’s something that I’m honestly not that concerned about. I think it will take care of itself with the new offense and things like that. But just continuing that rapport with Justin is a big deal.
A lot of that is really just having a feel for quarterback play and where they are going to be putting the ball. We have one every day in the 1-on-1s where I just know where the ball is going to be at and that’s a big deal when things are moving fast and you have tight space and tight windows.
4. Where does hitting bombs at Wrigley Field rank in your career athletic achievements?
Oh man. That was up there. So I did one in high school — I had a workout for the White Sox and I hit like five or six out there. So it’s funny, I was telling my dad after the Wrigley Day, I mean, how many people can say they hit a home run in Guaranteed Rate Field, Wrigley Field and scored a touchdown at Soldier Field? That’s pretty cool. But it ranks up there pretty high. Definitely, for sure.
5. The defense is punching at the ball every single time you touch it. How much does it hurt when they miss?
Well, so this happened in OTAs: I got hit, so I started stiff-arming. And people didn’t like that I was stiff-arming. So I just told the guys, ‘Well don’t hit me and you won’t get stiff-armed.’ So guys are a little lighter on me now because they know what’s going to happen if I get hit. But it hurts like a bitch when you get hit. I’m not going to lie.
Bonus question: Who wins the Saint Viator-Carmel game on Sept. 16?
I gotta take Viator. Hopefully you guys do well on (special) teams, but I’m going to have to take Viator. My brother might be the quarterback in that one. He’s going to be a sophomore, so we’ll see how that works out for him.
Best/Worst from Week 1 of training camp
The best: The new coaching staff walked into Halas Hall preaching the need for takeaways and the early returns are ridiculously positive. If you take your eyes off the practice field for just a minute, you’re very likely to miss a pass being batted in the air or a football being punched out. It would be shocking if the Bears, who only managed 16 takeaways in 2021, don’t see a significant jump in that category this season.
The worst: Monday’s and Tuesday’s two-minute drills were clunky and troublesome. Monday’s included a false start from Velus Jones Jr., a questionable timeout from the head coach on a first down (when spiking the ball was an option), and the quarterback running well past the line of scrimmage before throwing the ball as time expired. Tuesday, Fields managed just one completion in two series. Hey, it’s a good thing they are practicing it.
Next week’s “Bears Things” will include my annual first-impressions of the rookie class, but here are a few nuggets to chew on in the meantime:
- Kyler Gordon’s instincts and ball skills are impressive. He seems to make an impact play every day. “He’s a ball magnet. For some reason, he’s always around the football,” defensive coordinator Alan Williams said.
- Fifth-round pick Dominique Robinson sure looks the part for an NFL defensive end. I want to know what he looked like when he was a MAC wide receiver?
- It’s pretty remarkable when you realize that all 11 draft picks (and 12 rookies total when you include undrafted linebacker Jack Sanborn) are receiving significant reps with either the first- and/or second-teams in training camp. Braxton Jones taking all of the first-team left tackle reps on Tuesday is something to keep an eye on.
Wide Receiver Power Rankings
The wide receiver room is somewhat hard to figure out behind Darnell Mooney. Ryan Poles’ strategy was to load the room with cheaper options who are looking for a second opportunity to prove themselves. As they try to take advantage of that opportunity, I’ll try to track their weekly progress:
- Darnell Mooney — Duh.
- Equanimeous St. Brown – ESB needs to prove it beyond the practice field, but he’s off to a solid start.
- Byron Pringle — Too many drops for me, but Pringle still figures to be a likely starter.
- Velus Jones Jr. — Was hoping for a faster start from the third-round pick, but he made a couple nice plays Tuesday.
- Dante Pettis — I was disappointed in Pettis until Tuesday’s practice. He really stepped up.
- Nsimba Webster — He’s had some flashes, including a nice catch-and-run up the seam from Fields on Monday.
- Chris Finke — Finke appears to be a steady player, even if he’s undersized.
- N’Keal Harry — Missing two opportunities to make splash plays in his first practice was disappointing. He had another pass go off his fingertips in the end zone Tuesday.
- Isaiah Coulter — Haven’t noticed Coulter very much early on.
- Dazz Newsome — His most notable play so far was catching a pass that was batted about 30 feet in the air by Eddie Jackson.
- Kevin Shaa — He’s a guy on the roster.
- David Moore — Moore was having a very quiet camp until a big play up the middle on Tuesday.
- Tajae Sharpe — Sharpe remains on the Non-football Injury List and hasn’t practiced.
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