Crazy day at camp: Jenkins finally returns, but Bears lose WRs Pringle, Harry to injury

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Bears wide receiver N'Keal Harry catches a ball during the NFL football team's training camp, Friday, July 29, 2022, in Lake Forest, Ill.

    Chicago Bears wide receiver N'Keal Harry catches a ball during the NFL football team's training camp, Friday, July 29, 2022, in Lake Forest, Ill. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 8/6/2022 3:20 PM

After missing seven straight practices due to a still-undisclosed injury, offensive lineman Teven Jenkins returned and did some individual drills at Halas Hall on Saturday.

Definitely the lead story of the day, right?

 

Uh, not so fast.

The Bears' biggest dilemma is a sudden spate of injuries among the wide receivers:

• Veteran Byron Pringle has a quad injury that will cost him significant time.

• Rookie Velus Jones Jr. is day-to-day and working with trainers.

• N'Keal Harry, whom the Bears acquired from New England, left practice Saturday with an apparent left leg injury. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Harry couldn't put much weight on the leg and had to be helped off the field.

These are big blows to an already thin receiving corps.

If there's any good news, it's that there are suddenly fantastic opportunities for guys on the bubble. Tajae Sharpe, a seventh-year veteran, certainly took advantage Saturday by consistently getting open and making big plays downfield. Sharpe, a 27-year-old journeyman on his fourth team, had 25 catches for 230 yards with Atlanta last season.

"When you have a guy step up like that, that's awesome," said coach Matt Eberflus "That's what it's all about."

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OK, now back to Jenkins.

The Bears -- and more specifically former GM Ryan Pace -- selected the 6-foot-6, 322-pound tackle with the 39th overall pick of the 2020 draft. His rookie season was a nightmare as he pushed himself too hard in training camp while feeling tightness in his back.

Surgery was needed, and it forced the Bears to sign 39-year-old tackle Jason Peters.

Jenkins did return in November but only played in six games (two starts).

When this season rolled around, a completely new regime was in place, with Ryan Poles taking over for Pace and Eberflus taking over for Matt Nagy.

The makeup of the offensive line changed as well, as the Bears took Braxton Jones and Ja'Tyre Carter in the draft and also signed veteran linemen Riley Reiff and Michael Schofield.

Jenkins, who only did individual drills Saturday, said he's 90% healthy and expects to ramp up his participation day by day. He fielded nearly three dozen questions from the media in just eight minutes Saturday. Most answers were short and succinct.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

• As for what it's been like to deal with trade speculation? "It's hard. Life's hard."

• As for what his reaction was when he was demoted to the second team during spring drills? "I gotta get better myself and work on my stuff."

• As for how he's dealt with the situation? "A lot of talks with my fiancee. I talk to her night and day, whenever I can, and she helps me through a lot."

• As for responding to someone on Twitter and telling them not to believe everything they read ... what was that about? "Just one thing: Mainly that I was clashing with coaches. That was totally not true, and I just wanted to tell everybody that you don't have to believe everything that somebody says."

• As for feeling like he might be better off on another team? "I'm a loyal type of guy. The Chicago Bears, they drafted me so I'm going to stay with the Chicago Bears until whenever it is."

The Bears are doing everything they can to find the best starting five for their offensive line. Assuming Lucas Patrick (hand) can return by the season opener, the other four starters figure to be Reiff, Schofield, Cody Whitehair and Larry Borom.

With Sam Mustipher also a lock and rookies Jones, Carter and center Doug Kramer all getting significant reps, it means the clock is really ticking for Jenkins to show he can be a difference-maker.

Of course, injuries could change all of this in a heartbeat. As could someone stepping up and stealing a job.

Because one thing's for sure: Eberflus isn't about to hand out starting assignments yet.

"A lot of times coaches force the issue a little bit and anoint certain players," he said. "We don't want to put ceilings on guys. We want them to be able to compete.

"Leave it open, let 'em compete and a guy might rise up at the end to take the job. So we've got to let that happen."

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