Tevin Jenkins’ mysterious absence from Chicago Bears training camp practices reached the one-week mark Wednesday with the second-year offensive tackle missing his sixth consecutive practice.
The Bears continue to say Jenkins is dealing with an injury without offering even a sliver of additional detail. And when coach Matt Eberflus was pressed about whether Jenkins had been present at Halas Hall this week, he remained vague.
“To work with the trainers, yeah,” Eberflus said Wednesday. “He’s in the building. Sure.”
Still, there has been no indication that Jenkins has been an active participant in meetings. He has not been on the sidelines during practices to take mental reps either. And with NFL Network reporting earlier this week that the Bears have engaged in trade talks regarding Jenkins, there’s more than a little smoke swirling to indicate he quickly is fading from the team’s plans — both short and long term.
So what now?
Eberflus was asked directly when Jenkins’ team-designated “day-to-day” status might change. “When it does,” he responded.
As for the impact of Jenkins missing so much practice time the past two weeks? “Anybody who misses time on the grass, that’s not good,” Eberflus said. “It’s not good for the player, it’s not good for the team.”
Eberflus has talked a lot this week about the ability of players to show what he calls “functional intelligence,” taking what they are taught in the classroom and during walk-throughs and demonstrating they can apply it productively in high-speed practice situations.
“How do we see that without (a player) actually functioning on the field?” Eberflus said. “So that’s the important part of that.”
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For those keeping score, Jenkins has participated in exactly one training camp practice during his two summers with the Bears. That came July 27 during a shorter, ramp-up session. But the next day, he was gone without much explanation from the team. His return to practice remains indefinite.
Eberflus on Wednesday again said Jenkins’ absence was 100% injury-related. Whatever the case, this marks the second consecutive camp that Jenkins’ attendance has become a major storyline at Halas Hall.
In 2021, Jenkins reported to camp early with the rookies but was sidelined before the first practice with a back issue. Then-coach Matt Nagy initially downplayed the setback and even said during the third week of camp that it was “arrow up” in regards to Jenkins’ progress toward returning to the field. But nine days later, the second-round pick underwent back surgery, which kept him out of practice until November.
Jenkins saw his first offensive action of his rookie season in Week 14, forced into the game at Lambeau Field when starting left tackle Jason Peters suffered a right ankle injury. Jenkins played 49 snaps that night and 73 the following week as a starter. But even at the tail end of a lost season under a coaching staff that knew its eventual fate, the Bears showed a lack of faith in Jenkins and a lack of commitment to his long-term development.
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Jenkins played only three offensive snaps in the Bears’ 25-24 win against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 16 and seven more the following week in a 29-3 thrashing of the New York Giants. In the season finale, the Bears continued to use the 39-year-old Peters as their starting left tackle and turned to Jenkins only in the second half of a dispiriting loss to the Minnesota Vikings that punctuated a 6-11 season.
Jenkins finished the year as the Bears’ second-most penalized player with seven and went into the offseason with much to prove.
In June, Jenkins stressed the investments he had made over the offseason to take his game up a notch, working to improve his diet and reshape his body while pushing to become more consistent.
“I’m trying to elevate everything about myself, mentally and physically,” he said.
But even going back to the pre-draft process of 2021, there have been questions within league circles about how much football passion is pumping through Jenkins’ veins. The only way to answer such questions, of course, is on the field.
Bears general manager Ryan Poles has expressed interest in reshaping the offensive line since his arrival, communicating a desire to find linemen who are athletic, agile and play with a consistent nastiness. If Jenkins wanted to prove he fits that mold, his inability to practice during such an important stage of the Bears’ building efforts will prove detrimental.
As for the possibility of the Bears dealing Jenkins before the season begins, it’s one thing to field calls from other teams on Jenkins’ availability and another to have tangible offers. In league circles, there’s skepticism the Bears would be able to get anything more than a sixth- or seventh-round pick in exchange for Jenkins, who was widely regarded as a top-50 prospect heading into the 2021 draft but has yet to prove his value in the NFL.
And even then, the draft-capital return might not be tied into next spring. (As a frame of reference, the Bears dealt a 2024 seventh-round pick to the Patriots last month to acquire receiver N’Keal Harry, a former first-round pick who flamed out in New England.)
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Last summer, the Bears received a fifth-round selection when they sent 2018 second-round pick Anthony Miller plus a seventh-round selection to the Houston Texans.
With Jenkins fading from what has been a wide-open offensive line competition, rookie Braxton Jones continues to impress the coaches as a possible starter at left tackle. On Wednesday, Riley Reiff and Larry Borom divvied up the first-unit reps at right tackle, the position at which Jenkins saw most of his work in the spring.
The Bears continue pushing forward without Jenkins. And with each passing day, the organization seems to inch closer toward a disappointing conclusion, facing the prospect that yet another highly drafted player will fizzle out under their watch.