LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- Bears offensive line coach Juan Castillo placed an iPhone inches away from a facemask to make a point.
The iPhone was Bears rookie offensive tackle Teven Jenkins, and the facemask was an opposing defender preparing to rush the quarterback. Once the ball is snapped, there's a lot to process for Jenkins as the defense presents different looks and veteran pass rushers twist and stunt in an attempt to fool a first-year blocker. The iPhone and facemask don’t simply come together each play.
It’s why the Bears didn’t turn to the 23-year-old Jenkins to fill a key role in his first NFL game Sunday after he returned from back surgery in August. Jenkins worked just two snaps – both coming in protection on extra-point attempts – and didn't play on offense in the Bears' 33-22 loss to the Cardinals at Soldier Field.
Jenkins isn’t quite ready for a full role on the offensive line. He has had just four full-contact practices since returning from injured reserve and is still learning how to combine assignment responsibilities with technique and explosiveness.
“Right now, we’re trying to work him and get him ready,” Castillo said. “In an emergency thing, if something happened to Jason (Peters), right now he would be the one to come in. We’re trying to catch him up. I mean, he hasn’t done a lot of football. We’re working hard, trying to get him ready in case something like that happens.
“We’re just working him slowly. He’s still recovering, all those things. We’re just working him slowly.”
With five games remaining for the Bears (4-8) in the regular season, it’s unclear when and how Jenkins will factor into a role with the offense. Selected in the second round of the NFL Draft last spring, Jenkins missed all of training camp before being shut down for back surgery. He didn't get to build a foundation of reps at full speed. Jenkins has been part of the Bears’ meetings and film study all season, but understanding the role is just one part of the equation.
The Bears don’t want to force him into game reps if he isn't ready to handle them just yet. Rookie Larry Borom has played well lately as the starting right tackle, while veteran Jason Peters has been the Bears’ best offensive lineman at left tackle.
Given the priority is to protect rookie quarterback Justin Fields once he returns from fractured ribs, the Bears don’t want to jeopardize his health by replacing the reliable Peters with the raw Jenkins.
Jenkins is second on the Bears’ depth chart behind Peters at left tackle, and they want to be careful with getting him acclimated.
“He’s in a good place right now,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “It gives us depth. There is excitement having him ready as well. But I go to where the offensive line is and the way they’ve been working, that ability to stay in constant flow together.”
Unlike a rookie receiver running his first routes or a first-year pass rusher trying to sack the opposing quarterback, the responsibilities of a left tackle have more direct consequences. A misread of a B-gap blitz or a slow step to protect the edge doesn’t just break down a play. It could get a quarterback like Fields injured.
Until Jenkins is ready, the Bears will exercise patience in getting him up to full speed.
“That’s the part that we’re working on really hard right now,” Castillo said, “Is just coming off the ball, getting off the ball and getting to that spot as quick as you can.”
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.