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From Ashes to Glory - Teven Jenkins’ Story During the 2022 Pre-season

We’ve never seen a player go from NFL purgatory to the top like what Teven Jenkins battled through this summer. And the Bears are a better team with him.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

This entire offseason for the Chicago Bears has been a non-stop flurry of stories and news for a franchise beginning a complete reset. Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy are out; Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus are in. A new stadium seems to be on the horizon. Even long-time Team President and CEO Ted Phillips is retiring once the 2022 regular season has concluded.

None of those stories have dominated the local headlines as much as what’s happened with second-year offensive lineman Teven Jenkins.

About a month ago, it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that he was on his way out from Chicago. After all, a new regime will likely have different views on the players they inherited instead of the staff who acquired said players initially. Then all the trade rumors from the nationally based media — NFL Network and ESPN, amongst others — picked up steam. It’s never fun for any person to deal with such uncertainty over their standing with their new bosses.

Suddenly, a series of unexpected events happened. Those events eventually led Teven to a path of regaining control over his fate. Now, he has been named one of the starting five linemen for the Bears. From beginning to end, the story is nothing short of a remarkable turnaround—a story of true perseverance.

But first - a recap on just how rough of a beginning it has been for his career

NFL: DEC 20 Vikings at Bears Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

April 30th, 2021, is a date I’m sure Teven will never forget. Just one day after then-GM Ryan Pace pulled the trigger on a massive trade to land the #11 overall pick and Justin Fields, they struck again on another trade to move up and select his nasty bodyguard. At 39th overall, it looked to be a steal for a player many — myself included — had as a first-round worthy pick. He was selected to be the franchise LT for years to come.

In fact, to ensure there were zero questions remaining towards that plan, veteran LT Charles Leno Jr. was released the following day. He would later sign with the (now) Washington Commanders and became a mainstay for that unit. Meanwhile, everyone in Halas Hall made it “Teven or Bust” at left tackle. It was a plan that was met with the harshest of realities.

A back injury was revealed once training camp grew closer in 2021. This was, allegedly, an issue everyone in the building knew of long before it went public. The issue turned towards disaster when it became necessary for Teven to have surgery. Jason Peters was then signed to hold down the fort at LT, and Jenkins had to wait until November before he was healthy enough to make his debut.

His trademarked nastiness popped on film. But, it also became clear he needed refinement on his techniques with pass pro and to build a stronger base. Both of those issues require substantial playing time and quality coaching. Much like his QB Justin Fields; and virtually everyone else, Teven Jenkins was thrown to the wolves without a solid plan to build him up. A change in coaching staffs was a must heading into the 2022 calendar year.

Enter Ryan Poles, Ian Cunningham, and Chris Morgan - Three Former Hogs with new expectations and standards

Kansas City Chiefs v Chicago Bears Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The NFL World witnessed a thorough house cleaning at Halas Hall in the first quarter of 2022. Eventually, the lengthy interview process concluded with the hiring of Ryan Poles as the 4th different GM for the Bears since 2001. Shortly after that, Eberflus was named the new head coach, Ian Cunningham became the first ever Assistant GM in Bears history, and later Chris Morgan was hired as their o-line coach and tasked with rebuilding the trenches. Ryan Poles, Ian Cunningham, and Chris Morgan were all hogs at different points in their football lives.

Ryan Poles was a UDFA for the Chicago Bears in 2009. A year earlier (2008), Ian Cunningham was in a similar situation with the Kansas City Chiefs. Chris Morgan played collegiately at Colorado from 1995 to 1999. Upon his arrival to the organization, Ryan Poles singled out the O-line as his top priority to fix. His first step was to work with Matt Eberflus and find a coach who instills a mean attitude along with solid fundamentals in their units. Chris Morgan and his resume fit that description.

Unfortunately, all these developments turned into bad news for the incumbent players. Considering such an emphasis was placed on hiring people with o-line backgrounds, it’s easy to suggest a radically different approach was coming to Chicago. Many of the Bears’ pending free agents at the position group — notably James Daniels and Germain Ifedi — weren’t offered contracts and promptly shown the door. A clear indication of the overall assessment of the previous unit’s performance.

Between free agency and the draft, new blood was brought in, and only four players total from the 2021 unit remain in the Bears’ depth chart along the line: Cody Whitehair, Sam Mustipher, Larry Borom, and Teven Jenkins. Everyone else is brand new to the franchise.

Adversity Arrives at the Worst Possible Moment

NFL: JUL 27 Chicago Bears Training Camp Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Before offseason workouts began Teven Jenkins was penciled in as the starting RT. When those workouts concluded, he slipped to the 2nd team offense behind Larry Borom. Originally, it was supposed to be a competition between 2021 draft classmates during training camp until it wasn’t.

Veteran OT Riley Reiff was signed right at the beginning of training camp. The expectation was to see the former Lion, Viking, and Bengal take over at LT. Yet rookie Braxton Jones — who ended offseason workouts as the starting LT — kept a death grip on his job. Riley Reiff then lined up at RT, which bumped Larry Borom to the 2nd team and Teven Jenkins... to the 3rd team. That’s a slide that spells “doom” for most players at any level of football.

Everything would develop more awkwardly as time passed. Out of nowhere, an undisclosed injury withheld Jenkins from participating in practice. Matt Eberflus mentioned that Teven “woke up with something,” and then Teven disappeared from practice altogether. Neither the injury nor the explanation for the disappearance has been fully explained as of the writing of this article.

Someone behind the scenes used this as an opportunity to manifest a story that would certainly draw national interest. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported that the Bears were taking calls and gauging interest in a possible trade involving Jenkins. No offers have been revealed as of yet. Disappointment grew within the fanbase and player alike. Something had to give.

Opportunities Arise Elsewhere... in Chicago

Kansas City Chiefs v Chicago Bears Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

It was not until the week leading into the Bears’ pre-season debut against the Kansas City Chiefs did we see Teven Jenkins return to practice. Upon his return, his place on the depth chart remained the same - behind Riley Reiff and Larry Borom at RT. Gameday arrived, and then we noticed Riley Reiff was being held out. As a result, Larry and Teven got bumped up to the 1st and 2nd team offense, respectively.

Teven Jenkins knew this could be his last chance to show the new regime he can still play at a high level. By all accounts, he impressed, and his strong showing turned heads within Halas Hall and the media. It also gave the Bears an idea on how to fix their biggest issue on the O-line.

The conundrum at RG is one I bet Ryan Poles didn’t see coming. He allegedly had his eyes set on Trai Turner, a Pro Bowler and former Pittsburgh Steeler who knew Chris Morgan, only to see him eventually sign with Washington. Then he made a huge 4-year offer for restricted free agent Ryan Bates, that ended with the Buffalo Bills opting to match that contract offer. This problem only grew more complex from there.

Dakota Dozier, the former Minnesota Vikings starter at RG, was signed to a small contract and pitted in competition against Sam Mustipher. Dakota tore his ACL, ending his season prematurely, and veteran Michael Schofield was added right when training camp kicked off. Then, Mustipher had to return to his familiar spot at Center when Lucas Patrick needed surgery for his broken thumb. Michael Schofield took all the reps with the ones leading into the same week against the Chiefs. Schofield struggled during his three series with the starters.

A starting job at RG was still up for grabs. And Teven Jenkins was looking to compete for such a job. The decision was made to kick Teven inside and see what happens.

Teven kicked the damned doors down while the National Media sat drunkenly at the bar

Chicago Bears v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Jane Gershovich/Getty Images

I’m not here to type that Teven Jenkins will turn into a hall of fame player at RG. Or even guarantee that he’ll be a good player in that position. That said, his debut as a RG in the NFL against the Seattle Seahawks was excellent. From that game onward, he never looked back.

The short week of practice leading into that game was a whirlwind. With just two days to prepare, neither of them being in full pads, Teven moved up from 2nd to 1st team almost immediately. Michael Schofield was moved back to the reserves and didn’t see another rep with the starters. Not against the Seahawks, and not against the Cleveland Browns the following week. Schofield was given the axe once final roster cutdowns were in full swing.

For whatever reason, members of the National Media — largely Adam Schefter and Ian Rapoport — still listed Teven Jenkins as a player seemingly on the trade block. This is despite a list of facts that suggested the contrary. In the words of fellow contributor Greg Gabriel, why would the Bears waste all the first-team reps on Teven Jenkins if they planned to trade him?

The answer is there never was a plan to trade Jenkins!

Not every trade rumor starts with the agents or representatives of teams looking to advertise their player on the open market. Instead, in my own opinion and observation, and an educational background in sport management, a lot of these rumors can also start with teams trying to get the other side to pick up the phone. That applies to what happened between the Chicago Bears and Jenkins.

With every “update” provided by Ian and Adam, the story became way too repetitive and aged like milk. Suppose there ever was a deal being engaged and discussed. Why would those deliberations continue when said player takes all the reps without a viable replacement already on the roster? Simple answer - the trade rumors are all fiction.

You don’t even have to go far to find evidence. The excellent interview posted above between Adam Jahns, Adam Hoge, and Ryan Poles can validate that suggestion. Teams called in to ask what was going on, and Ryan Poles stated that nothing was going on. Ryan even opened up about the need to communicate better in situations like these.

Essentially I believe that both Ian Rapoport and Adam Schefter were working on behalf of teams hoping for the Bears to pick up the phone about Teven Jenkins. And this is not uncommon to see around the league. Here’s how that tinfoil hat conspiracy works.

The insiders get a juicy story, and the aspiring trade partners get their interest presented in secrecy. After all, what National Insider would ever turn down a free story to generate more views? It’s the easiest paycheck to earn. And, more or less, it’s a way to crack open trade negotiations when the other side isn’t returning your emails or phone calls.

The media-led negotiating tactic is present in all professional team sports. The NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB all use sports media as a tool to gauge interest as much as they use the media to generate revenue. This tactic will only grow more advanced as technology and platforms evolve.

It’s nice to see Ryan Poles effectively tell both Ian Rapoport and Adam Schefter to shut up with their superfluous stories.

We’re not entirely out of the woods yet

New England Patriots v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

It’s evident that even with this feel-good story, there’s still a chance things can change down the road. Ryan Poles and Co. are hellbent on fixing the O-line now and heading into the future. They’re still making moves and reviewing all their options as we speak.

Most recently, the Bears pulled a shocker and claimed former Las Vegas Raiders O-lineman Alex Leatherwood off waivers. The former 17th overall pick of the 2021 draft was cast out by Josh McDaniels as a player deemed by the new regime to be a failed experiment. In Ryan Poles’ own words, Alex Leatherwood is being given a clean slate. “Forget the draft pick. That’s over.” That translates to a player who’ll likely be rebuilt by Chris Morgan the whole year.

Or will that be the case? Alex Leatherwood is listed as both a tackle and a guard. He took reps right away at RT, which is where he was originally slotted by Jon Gruden and the Raiders before struggling mightily and kicking inside... to RG. He projects as a much better fit for the wide-zone concepts to be run by the Bears at either spot.

I suspect that Alex Leatherwood could eventually push Larry Borom at RT if he quickly picks up the new system. It could also lead to competition for Teven Jenkins if he struggles and Alex Leatherwood is seen as a better player at guard. Perhaps he’ll be a replacement for Cody Whitehair at LG; should a move be made later on? Anything is possible with a player whose contract provides up to four years of control thanks to the free fifth-year option included in Leatherwood’s original contract.

If that wasn’t enough, the Bears also checked in recently and worked out Kelechi Osemele. The former All-Pro has experience at LG, RG, and RT. If Kelechi Osemele is signed, look for him to be with the practice squad for a few weeks before a promotion later in the season. Provided that such a promotion is ever deemed necessary.

It’s entirely on Teven Jenkins to keep his job. From this point forward, he controls his destiny. I feel that’s a reasonable arrangement with everything else considered.

Moving forward

NFL: JUL 27 Chicago Bears Training Camp Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This has been an incredible story to follow and write. When a player begins to doubt themselves as the media storm intensifies, it’s rare to see said player overcome the situation. Teven Jenkins went through hell and back to get to this point.

And, listen, there’s nothing wrong with anyone opening up about their vulnerabilities. Teven was honest about his situation from the beginning. That’s something worthy of praise. For every person that says, “toughen up,” I’ll reply with the following. Only the toughest ever disclose their issues and then do anything about it.

We won’t know what will happen between the typing of this article and the end of the season. What we do know is at this moment, the Bears’ O-line is better with Teven Jenkins in the lineup. He’s earned that starting job in a complete turnaround that may never be witnessed again with another player.

I’ll personally say I’m proud of Teven Jenkins for what he overcame these last twelve calendar months. Many people are. Now, let’s kick back and watch him wreck some fools in the trenches during the coming weeks and months.