Teven Jenkins

Teven Jenkins' injury, lack of OL depth puts Bears' season in peril early

Bears left guard Teven Jenkins is expected to miss the start of the season with a leg injury which puts the Bears behind the eightball to start the 2023 season

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Teven Jenkins has enjoyed a relatively healthy training camp. The Bears' third-year offensive lineman has missed just two practices in training camp and was a full participant during joint practices last week with the Indianapolis Colts.

But Jenkins' good fortune didn't make it through August.

A source confirmed to NBC Sports Chicago that Jenkins suffered a leg injury that could cause him to miss time in the first month of the season. Brad Biggs of the The Chicago Tribune was the first to report the news.

With Jenkins likely to miss the start of the season, the Bears' lack of quality interior offensive line depth will immediately be put under the microscope.

Ideally, the Bears will have right guard Nate Davis and top reserve Lucas Patrick healthy by Week 1, allowing Patrick to slot in at left guard in place of Jenkins. But Davis has missed most of training camp before returning last week. He was a limited participant in Indianapolis and, like most starters, didn't play in Saturday's 24-17 preseason loss. Patrick left the Family Fest practice on Aug. 6 and has not returned to practice since.

Second-year guard Ja'Tyre Carter has taken the first-team right guard reps when Davis and Patrick have been out. During the two practices when Jenkins and Davis were out, but Patrick was available, Alex Leatherwood took the first-team left guard reps, with Carter slotting in as the backup right guard.

The Bears' lack of quality offensive line depth was always going to be an issue.

Even if Patrick returns to full health by Week 1, he is far from a sure thing. Last season, Patrick gave up 16 pressures and two sacks in 146 pass-blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus. His 30.8 pass-blocking grade was among the worst in the NFL. It should be noted that Patrick played with a club on his right hand after suffering a thumb injury in training camp.

The Bears also have a potential problem at center.

Veteran Cody Whitehair left Thursday's joint practice with a right-hand injury. He did not return to practice. Bears head coach Matt Eberflus said the injury is not considered severe, but it's something to consider. If Whitehair isn't fully healthy to start the season, a healthy Patrick will slot in at center, meaning Leatherwood or Carter would be the first option at left guard.

Carter played left guard last season but has exclusively manned right guard during training camp. It's important to remember that not every offensive lineman can seamlessly flip sides, and it's possible the Bears have decided that right guard is the best place for Carter to succeed.

As for Leatherwood, the Bears have moved around the line since claiming his off waivers last September. They've settled on left guard being the best spot for the 2021 first-round pick. Leatherwood only got a handful of snaps last season, all of which came at tackle. He gave up five pressures and one sack in 20 pass-blocking snaps.

The Bears' best option is for Patrick to get healthy and take over at center while moving a healthy Whitehair back to left guard. while this is the preferred scenario, it relies on the continued health of Patrick, Davis, and Whitehair.

Given the Bears ' early-season slate, the murky interior offensive line picture is especially concerning.

The Bears open the season against the Green Bay Packers and star defensive tackle Kenny Clark. Clark manhandled the Bears' interior offensive line in 2022. They'll face Vita Vea, rookie Calijah Kancey, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 2 before going to Kansas City to face the Chiefs and Chris Jones in Week 3. Jones is currently holding out for a new contract, but there's a good chance the Chiefs will find a way to bring Jones back into the fold by the time the season starts.

There's always a chance the Bears, who still have $16.3 million in salary cap space, bring in another interior offensive lineman.

Dalton Risner is the best option on the free-agent market. Risner, 28, is a talented guard who would immediately slot in at left guard. Last season, Risner surrendered just 29 pressures and three sacks in 598 pass-blocking snaps. While Risner is seen as more of a gap-scheme fit, he played in a zone scheme similar to the Bears' last season in Denver when Nathaniel Hackett was the head coach.

The Bears have struggled with injuries throughout camp. Jenkins' leg injury is a big blow to an improved offensive line that has been unable to gel due to injuries in camp.

An early-season slate filled with top-level interior defensive linemen only increases the significance of the injury. Jenkins has been the Bears' best offensive lineman in camp. The depth behind him isn't palatable, especially against Clark, Vea, and Jones.

For the Bears to get a full evaluation of quarterback Justin Fields this season -- which is imperative heading into the offseason -- the offensive line must be able to keep him upright and provide a consistently clean pocket. Otherwise, we might be looking at a redux of last year when Fields was constantly under siege.

The good vibes at the start of the month are gone. With Jenkins likely to miss the start of the season, the Bears' lack of quality offensive line depth will immediately be put to the test. Their season may hinge on whether or not it can pass it.

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