Jenkins had played exclusively at tackle since his redshirt freshman season at Oklahoma State in 2017. He played right tackle in the Bears’ opening preseason game on Aug. 13. The next day, a Sunday, Jenkins took a call from his coaches and learned he’d be playing guard on Monday morning.
Jenkins called the past month “a rollercoaster and a mix of emotions.” Two weeks ago, he was the third-string right tackle. He was also reportedly on the trade block. It was quite a fall for a player who was the 39th overall draft pick just a year ago.
As of right now, he’s in the starting lineup at right guard. He had a total of two practices at the position before the Bears threw him into the starting lineup last week in a preseason game in Seattle. He’s expected to start at right guard again Saturday in the preseason finale at Cleveland.
The Bears wouldn’t be giving him such a long look at right guard if they didn’t believe he could start there. On Thursday at Halas Hall, Jenkins said he’s still very much learning the position. Asked if he felt comfortable with the nuances of the position, Jenkins was quite candid.
“I feel like I’m still in the basics of it,” he said. “Still learning how to tweak what I need to do on certain people in certain situations right now, and as I get more reps and get more comfortable, that’s when I’ll start progressing in [the details].”
Jenkins is the quintessential big teddy bear off the field. His teammates say he’s jovial and has a great personality, but a switch flips when he steps onto the gridiron.
Jenkins thinks his nasty streak will pay well at right guard.
“Physicality,” Jenkins said. “It’s like you have a dude right there, right now, instead of all this space. At tackle, you have a lot of time to think about what’s going to happen and a lot of space to do whatever technique you’re thinking about. At guard it’s happening a lot quicker.”
Bears veteran left guard Cody Whitehair said the guard position in offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s offense is trickier to learn than in other schemes.
“There’s just a lot more getting to the second level, making sure that you’re on the same page with protection calls,” Whitehair said. “I feel like the other systems I was in, you didn’t quite have to use your eyes as much at guard.”
Jenkins referenced his eyes as well. In this scheme, linemen are moving laterally a lot more frequently than in other schemes. That involves a ton of coordination with the other linemen in order to know who is blocking which defenders.
“Ultimately, the goal is to make sure everybody knows every [assignment] all throughout the whole way,” Jenkins said.
The Bears have used the same offensive line combination since the preseason game against Seattle, with Braxton Jones at left tackle, Whitehair at left guard, Sam Mustipher at center, Jenkins at right guard and Larry Borom at right tackle.
Head coach Matt Eberflus wouldn’t confirm if that was the starting lineup he’s thinking about for Week 1. Veteran tackle Riley Reiff and guard Michael Schofield are currently playing with the backups.
“We’re still looking at the combinations,” Eberflus said. “I know we’re kind of solidified as of late, the recent [group] that’s been out there. But we’re still ... the competition is still open. So everybody’s got to put their best foot forward.”
Practice attendance: Several Bears remain out with injuries. Receiver N’Keal Harry, safety Jaquan Brisker, receiver Velus Jones Jr., receiver Byron Pringle, cornerback Tavon Young, cornerback Thomas Graham Jr., running back Trestan Ebner, cornerback Jaylon Jones, center Lucas Patrick, receiver Tajae Sharpe, defensive tackle Angelo Blackson and defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. all sat out practice Thursday.
Thursday’s practice was the final practice that was open in full to members of the media. From now through the remainder of the season, only the stretching portion of practice will be open.