Chicago Bears second-round pick Teven Jenkins made his offensive debut Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers, and, to put it politely, it didn’t go well. Jenkins, who’s been on the shelf since the beginning of training camp with a back injury, was viewed as an exceptional value in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft, considering many draft analysts issued a first-round grade on him.
Jenkins’ insertion into the lineup in Week 14 wasn’t planned. Veteran left tackle Jason Peters exited the game early in the first quarter, forcing the rookie who hadn’t taken any meaningful snaps since the summer to face off against a quality defensive front in his first NFL exposure. The result was predictably bad, as Jenkins ended Sunday night with the Bears’ worst overall grade from Pro Football Focus. His 26.7 score was a great distance from the next-lowest offensive player, fellow rookie offensive lineman Larry Borom, who earned a 46.2.
Sidenote: Is it any surprise Justin Fields struggled as the game went on? His two offensive tackles were terrible, and the third-lowest grade on Chicago’s offense belonged to center Cody Whitehair. Right guard James Daniels wasn’t much better than Whitehair, either. It was a very bad night for the Bears’ offensive line.
Regardless of the collective group’s failure, Jenkins was the worst of the bunch. He played 49 snaps, 41 of which were passing plays, and his pass blocking grade was a shocking 23.5. To make matters worse, he was flagged four times, three of which resulted in lost yards for the Bears.
Is it unfair to pass judgment on Jenkins’ first game back? In a way, it is. Despite his high draft pedigree, Jenkins isn’t a starter yet. He’s the Bears’ backup left tackle for a reason: he isn’t ready to be a full-timer with the first team. He’s rusty and he’s barely healthy enough to be on the active roster. There’s that whole ‘football shape’ thing, too, that Jenkins is probably still working himself into.
Sunday night’s game was the equivalent of Jenkins’ first NFL preseason contest. It was his first exposure to real NFL speed and power against an opponent that he hasn’t seen on the practice field or in the locker room. He was tossed into the fire, and unfortunately for him and the Bears’ offense, he got burned.
Still, Jenkins remains a critically important piece to Chicago’s rebuilding plan, regardless of the sour first impression.
“It’s never easy coming into this league as a rookie at tackle,” Matt Nagy said after the game. “I think he’s gonna have a really really good career. I think his future’s very very bright. You learn from these moments, you really do. He’ll be just fine. He’s gonna rally and he’s gonna do everything he can to get better.”
Learning on the job is important for every rookie at every position. We’re watching Fields go through the highs and lows of good and bad moments too, so while Jenkins’ was undisputedly bad on national television, he’s not a bad football player. Instead, he’s just inexperienced. He’s entitled to the same ups and downs as any other young player in the league. It just stings more for the Bears because of the opponent Jenkins stunk against.
“That’s a tough spot for Tev,” Fields said Sunday night. “I know he wanted to play great today, and the sack he gave up, I just told him, ‘Look, it’s your first game, primetime, Sunday Night, you’re a rookie, first-ever playing time right now, of course, you’re going to make mistakes. So you’ve got to go in there knowing that you’re going to make mistakes, and just learn from them and make sure that they don’t happen again.’ He was pretty bummed about it, but I told him don’t worry about it and just move on to the next play, next drive, and just keep that in the past.”