LAKE FOREST — The preseason is all about opportunity, especially for the young, inexperienced and forgotten players.
Like Teven Jenkins.
The former Bears’ second-round draft pick is just 24 years old, has appeared in just six regular season games and began training camp with the third-string unit after being in the center of trade rumors while he was working with trainers.
Not only is this Week 2 preseason matchup against the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night an opportunity, but it may also just be his most important game to date.
In the last two training camp practices, Jenkins has repped at the right guard position, and on Tuesday played with the starting unit – making this the first time he has played with the No. 1 offense all training camp.
“He’s been there for a couple of days and he’s doing a good job,” Bears coach Matt Eberflus said. “And we’re excited where he goes from this forward. We’ll see how it goes. And this is another combination that we have, we’re looking at it, and we’ll go from there.”
Yeah, it’s only the preseason – the second one at that, but this one holds a lot more weight for Jenkins. If he can prove in limited snaps that he is capable of executing his new job on a short week, then this could put the 6-foot-6, 303-pound lineman on a trajectory to become a focal point with the starters.
Jenkins played 36 snaps in the Week 1 opener against the Chiefs at right tackle and played well against Kansas City’s backups. Early in the fourth quarter, Jenkins unleashed his physicality and drove linebacker Jack Cochrane into the patchy dirt of Soldier Field.
Playing with brute force is no doubt one of Jenkins’ strengths, but it will take much more than that to win over the Bears’ coaching staff – especially since he will be playing a new position on Thursday. Luckily, one of his best attributes is his football IQ, which Eberflus, Trevor Siemian and Cody Whitehair have all praised Jenkins for in the last two days.
“I guess you see the way he studies,” Whitehair said. “You know, the way he answers questions is very detailed. When a coach asks him a question, he answers it to the most detailed version that he can answer. And you know I think it speaks to him athletically too. You know and like I talked about, it’s the guard’s responsibility to obviously secure the first level but then, sustain a block at the second level. And he’s athletic enough to do that. So I think that’s a tribute to him.”
Eberflus said the starters would play “6 to 10” snaps against the Seahawks. Jenkins, however, should play well after the first-team unit is done, and Eberflus indicated in his Tuesday press conference that may be the case. More opportunities give Jenkins a chance to separate from Michael Schofield – who has been getting all of the first-team reps outside of Tuesday’s practice when he was the second unit.
Jenkins’ narrative is slightly beginning to change, and this isn’t necessarily a surprise for Eberflus.
“Like one of my mentors said this and I believe this and he engrained into my mind is that you never put a ceiling on a player,” Eberflus said. “So you’ll always have to watch out for that as a coach. You don’t put a ceiling on him. Let him grow. Let him do his thing because some people mature and grow at different times. And all of a sudden, they just grow into a player, they grow into a really good NFL player. And that’s for any position. We’re never going to put ceilings on guys. We’re always going to think the best for every player. The sky’s the limit for you, and we’re coaching every single player on the roster that way.”
For Jenkins, Thursday night is his time to “grow into a player.”
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