LAKE FOREST — The Bears will have a decision to make in the next seven days.
Rookie offensive tackle Teven Jenkins returned to practice two weeks ago, opening a 21-day window during which he could be activated off injured reserve. Jenkins has missed the entire season because of a back injury he suffered during the summer. The 23-year-old had back surgery in August and started the season on IR.
According to the NFL’s injured reserve rules, once a player returns to practice, the team has 21 days to activate him or shut him down for the remainder of the season.
For Jenkins, that deadline is Dec. 6.
“We’ll kind of see how things go for us this week,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “He’s done great, and I think that’s probably, as you go through this process, for him, it was just being able to see physically where he’s at.”
Jenkins’ health is the first concern. The team isn’t going to activate him if he’s not where he needs to be, physically.
Health aside, the Bears are at an interesting crossroads. Rookie fifth-round draft pick Larry Borom has started four consecutive games at right tackle. On the other side, 18th-year veteran Jason Peters has started every game at left tackle.
Since Borom returned from an ankle injury a month ago, the Bears have had a good thing going at both tackle spots. Introducing Jenkins into that mix could complicate things. Does Jenkins become Peters’ backup? Does he become Borom’s backup? Does he take a starting spot from either one of them?
It’s a good problem to have if you’re an NFL coaching staff. The Bears likely will activate Jenkins because giving him practice reps is vitally important, even if he’s not starting, and because depth is so key in the NFL.
“Even when we were able to get Larry back, it put us in a good place,” Nagy said. “We went through a little stretch there where our linemen were – we were a little bit depleted.”
Bears fans remember well the disaster in Tampa Bay, when COVID-19 issues forced the team to use an under-prepared Lachavious Simmons at right tackle. That was a worst-case scenarios that the Bears want to avoid moving forward.
There might be an argument, too, for Jenkins to see playing time ahead of the veteran Peters. General manager Ryan Pace was clear in the spring and summer that the Bears believe Jenkins can play left tackle. The Bears invested a lot to move up to the 39th overall pick and grab Jenkins, trading second-, third- and sixth-round picks in exchange for the 39th overall pick and a fifth-round pick (which they used on Borom).
Peters was a revelation when the Bears brought him in on short notice. Peters was on a boat fishing in Texas when Bears offensive line coach Juan Castillo called him. Things could’ve been much worse when the Bears lost Jenkins to IR, but Peters proved to be the perfect stopgap measure.
But that feeds right into the argument – Peters is nothing more than a stopgap. At age 39, he’s not the long-term answer. He signed a one-year contract and probably won’t be on the team next year. Jenkins and Borom are the future at the tackle positions.
Peters probably gives the Bears the best chance to win during the final six games of the season. The chances of reaching the playoffs, though, are minuscule, and the organization needs to know just how good Jenkins and Borom really are.
Nagy said that Peters has “done a really good job in so many different ways.”
“Right now, we feel good with where we’re at,” Nagy said. “So, if anything, it provides major depth for us. And then we just play out the scenarios.”
Jenkins’ return certainly adds to the depth at tackle. Remember, too, that this Bears coaching staff needs every win it can find. That’s probably a good reason not to stir things up when it’s not necessary.