LAKE FOREST – A month ago, when Bears offensive lineman Teven Jenkins first started playing right guard, he referenced how the biggest adjustment from tackle to guard might be in his eyes.
The Luke Getsy offense moves linemen around more than other offenses. Linemen need to know where they’re going and they need to read and react to what the defense does. That can be a challenge, particularly for a young lineman who hasn’t played much guard since early in his college career.
Jenkins believes he’s making the right strides at the guard position. He has been playing the position for more than a month now, appearing in two preseason games and two regular season games at right guard.
Asked specifically how he’s improving his eyes, he pointed toward a play against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1. He engaged with 49ers defensive lineman Arik Armstead, but kept an eye on what was happening to his right between right tackle Larry Borom and 49ers pass rusher Nick Bosa.
“I talked about how my eye discipline had to get better,” Jenkins said. “My eyes went straight to Larry, and that’s where it has to be. It has to be because he’s counting on me to be there if he gets an inside move or anything.”
After initially trying to go outside on Borom, Bosa cut inside. Jenkins disengaged with Armstead and let center Sam Mustipher handle him. Jenkins shifted to his right and absolutely clobbered Bosa on the inside move. Bosa wound up on his back and watched from the ground as quarterback Justin Fields scrambled by.
“As we keep going, it’s more along the lines of if I have to pick up a blitzing linebacker when I’m the person who has to go pick it up, it’s just having my eyes ready for any situation,” Jenkins said.
The 24-year-old Jenkins split reps at right guard with lineman Lucas Patrick through the first two games of the season. Jenkins played two offensive series, then Patrick played two series. Then it went back to Jenkins, and so on.
This week, Patrick began snapping the football for the first time since injuring his thumb in July. That could be an indication that Patrick is heading back to center, possibly as early as Sunday.
On the surface, that would seem to be a good thing for Jenkins. This could be a chance for him to move into a full starting role at right guard, but it’s also not a lock.
The Bears coaching staff remains high on lineman Sam Mustipher, who filled in at center while Patrick was injured and who has 26 regular season NFL starts under his belt. Prior to Patrick’s injury, Mustipher was working almost exclusively at right guard.
Asked if he believes he has done enough to prove that he can start at right guard, Jenkins laughed and indicated he wanted no part in answering that question. Ultimately, it’s not up to him anyway.
“I’ll just say I’m working toward it,” Jenkins said. “Keep progressing. I feel like I’m almost there, almost there.”
Jenkins knows he needs to be more consistent. That’s what offensive line coach Chris Morgan said this week, too. Yes, the play against the 49ers is one example of when Jenkins did the right thing on the football field. As with any player, there are other examples on film of when he didn’t make the right move. He’s a young player learning a new position.
“Teven’s getting better every day,” Morgan said. “He’s banking more reps, seeing more looks, taking more pass sets.”
Nobody knows who the Bears will start at right guard when Patrick eventually returns to center, whether it’s Sunday or later in the season. It comes down to what Matt Eberflus and the Bears coaching staff wants. Do they want to continue to give Jenkins – who probably has more longterm upside – reps at right guard? Or do they want to go with the player who gives them the best chance to win this week? Because they might argue that player is Mustipher. Or will they continue to split the reps between Jenkins and Mustipher?
Jenkins has seen growth in himself in just a few weeks, and he’s eager to see more.
“Time is more important than anything, having those reps,” Jenkins said. “All that time from a couple weeks ago until now, I grew, myself, into a better player right now, I feel like. I think it’s a good thing that I had all this time to do that.”