The Chicago Bears’ offensive line isn’t very good. This shouldn’t be a shock to anyone who’s followed this team over the last several months. But the surprise signing of veteran 39-year-old offensive tackle Jason Peters late in the summer has turned in positive results through the first two weeks of the 2021 season and has made a worrisome group stronger than expected.
Peters was signed by the Bears after second-round pick Teven Jenkins underwent back surgery to repair an injury that general manager Ryan Pace shed light on earlier this month.
“Without getting into details, he started having some pain down his leg—I think just from the nerve,” Pace said. “The good thing? As soon as we did [the surgery], those symptoms went away. So we feel good about it. . . . And just because he had a back surgery doesn’t mean he’s not going to have a good NFL career. We’re excited about the player, excited about where he’s heading. Now we feel we fixed the problem.”
Jenkins’ injury may have been fixed, but it still sent him to injured reserve and there isn’t a defined timeline for his return. There’s hope he’ll be back at some point during his rookie season, but hope doesn’t win games on Sundays.
Enter Peters, who through two games (97 snaps) is the Bears’ second-highest graded player on offense, per Pro Football Focus. He has a season grade of 74.5 and is excelling in pass blocking with an 82.3. He has the highest pass-blocking grade among all Bears linemen.
These are surprising marks for Peters, who suffered through the worst year of his career in 2020 with the Philadelphia Eagles when he logged just 509 snaps and a 67.6 PFF grade (66.1 in pass protection). They were the lowest marks of his 15-year career and at his advanced age, he appeared washed.
And let’s face it: it’s very (very) early in the 2021 season. Peters is 39 years old. There’s a better than 0% chance that he’ll break down at some point this year; he suffered a quad injury in Week 1 that forced him out of the game and had an issue with his finger Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The hope with Peters is that he can hold down the left tackle spot until Jenkins comes back. And if he excels, maybe it allows Jenkins to slide to the right side and replace Germain Ifedi in the starting lineup (who’s also actually playing pretty good football right now too). The best-case scenario would be for Peters and Ifedi to be playing so well that Jenkins doesn’t have to rush back at all.
Back injuries are no joke, especially for 300-plus pound offensive linemen. Bears fans remember the doomed career of Chris Williams, the former first-round pick (14th overall, 2008) out of Vanderbilt. He missed the first week of training camp with what was dubbed a minor back injury. He was later diagnosed with a herniated disc that required surgery to repair. He didn’t make his Bears debut until November of that year. He went on to have a mediocre tenure that ended with his release in 2012.
The point here is this: back injuries, if not treated properly, can begin a slippery slope toward failed expectations. Jenkins can’t rush his return.
This brings us back to Peters, who’s suddenly the most important piece to the Bears’ 2021 draft class. He has to protect Justin Fields’ blindside and he has to do it well enough that Chicago doesn’t feel forced to play Jenkins before he’s ready.
If Peters can hold on for another month or two and continue playing at his current level, the once troublesome offensive tackle position will be a strength for a Bears team that’s riding some momentum into Week 3’s game against the Cleveland Browns.