Arkush: Is Teven Jenkins' back injury a threat to Justin Fields' development? Yes.
Two full weeks into training camp, Teven Jenkins, the Bears left tackle of the present and future, has yet to make an appearance on the practice field due to back issues.
Memories of former failed first-round pick Chris Williams are wafting around Halas Hall, and there are concerns Jenkins' absence may delay the grooming of Justin Fields as well as his own.
With Germain Ifedi, Elijah Wilkinson and Lachavious Simmons all having missed practices due to either COVID-19 protocols or injury, head coach Matt Nagy said his M.A.S.H. unit up front could limit Fields' invaluable exhibition game reps over the next three weeks.
"It is a fine line. That's kinda the challenge for all these guys," Nagy said. "We gotta be able to evaluate -- that's the beauty of the preseason -- but we also need these guys for Week 1. It's that Catch-22. You play somebody and all of a sudden they get hurt and go, 'You dummy, why'd you do that?' "
Jenkins was supposed to be a plug-and-play rookie starter at left tackle.
Now the point of no return that leaves him starting the season on the bench is dangerously close, while his backups are just as great an unknown at left tackle as he is. And Nagy acknowledged this week he doesn't really know if Jenkins' camp debut is close yet.
"We're still working through it," Nagy admitted. "So I wouldn't say there's much change from a week ago, but obviously every day that goes by we know it matters."
Nagy was relieved to get Wilkinson off the COVID-19/reserve list and seemed to indicate the journeyman right tackle was actually ahead of Jenkins on the depth chart coming into camp.
"With numbers, getting him back is key, just because we were getting low there," Nagy said. "Coming into this camp (Wilkinson) was the starting left tackle.
"He understands that it is a competition, so he's probably champing at the bit right now to get out there and continue to compete."
The big issue with Wilkinson is his handful of starts in the league have all been on the right side. Nagy can't even say for sure he's ready to protect Fields' and Andy Dalton's blind sides.
"I think so," Nagy said. "He's new, right? So he's learning techniques from Juan (Castillo, line coach). But he's willing and I think that's all you can say is if he's willing to do it, just keep doing it. For him it would be just eliminating the big misses.
"He's a good football player and then every now and then there will be one that just kinda might get him. He's learning from that. Now's the time to do that. If he can kinda minimize those -- everybody, the greatest tackles in the world have those."
Clearly the Bears needed to get better than Charles Leno at left tackle but did they? Or are they just different?
Leno's biggest issue was also the big misses.
For his part Wilkinson is just excited to have a shot after being primarily a backup in Denver.
"Shoot, don't make any errors," Wilkinson said Thursday. "Block my guy, give 110 percent, take advantage of this opportunity that I have in front of me. I'm just here to compete and win a job."
And we actually don't even know who's up next if neither Jenkins nor Wilkinson is available or able.
We do know back issues for a man Jenkins' size trying to play NFL football should always be a concern, and we were a bit taken aback when Nagy acknowledged earlier this week the Bears knew when they drafted Jenkins he had back issues at Oklahoma State.
To this day we're not sure what the Bears knew about Williams when they wasted that first-rounder on him.
If healthy, Jenkins is exciting, but for now Nagy said his depleted tackle depth chart "definitely does" play a big role in how he uses Fields and he knows with Fields, "The only way we can evaluate is by seeing him play. He's gotta get valuable reps."
So does Jenkins for both his and Fields' sakes, but it appears that may not be happening any time soon.