How Did The Steven Jenkins Situation Get To Where It Is?

A little more than a year ago during the 2021 NFL Draft, the Chicago Bears moved up in the second round to select Oklahoma State tackle Teven Jenkins. At the time, that made the fan base extremely happy as Jenkins was a big, strong physical player who showed dominating ability on tape.

But ever since the Bears selected Jenkins, there have been issues.

The first was last year in camp when he injured his back after only a few practices and had surgery. This cost him more than half of his rookie season before he could play. This year with a new front office and coaching staff things started off well, as Jenkins was working with the first offensive line as a right tackle, but that didn’t last long.

Two weeks into OTAs he was demoted, and Larry Borom was elevated to the top spot at right tackle.

Then after only one practice at camp this year, Jenkins became MIA with another injury. He hasn’t practiced since last Wednesday. When asked about Jenkins, Head Coach Matt Eberflus said only, “he woke up today with a little something.” Then yesterday NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that the Bears are taking calls on a trade for Jenkins. One thing is clear, when Rapoport or Adam Schefter report something, there is truth to it. What happened?

Going into the ’21 Draft, many analysts felt that Jenkins was a mid to late first-round player, so for the Bears to get him in the second round at the time looked like a steal.

Unfortunately, things aren’t always the way they look.

Having been involved in the NFL going back to 1981, I still have several friends in the League who are high level decision makers. Like I always do, I make calls after the Draft to some of these people to ask them not only about their club’s Draft but their feelings on the Bears Draft.

Some of the answers surprised me.

Two people (from separate clubs) whom I have known for years and I highly respect told me that the Bears drafting of Jenkins was a mistake. Both of these clubs had taken Jenkins off their Draft Board because they had issues with his football character.

I often talk about football character and it has nothing to do with personal character. Football character deals with a player’s passion and love for the game, his work ethic, his desire to be a great player and his toughness among other things.

Some of the things the people I talked to said that Jenkins’ toughness was pseudo to fake toughness. They added that while he was a hard worker in the weight room other areas were of concern, and finally that he can be difficult to coach at times.

I know what I saw on tape, so I was skeptical when I first heard this. On tape, Jenkins is a very physical player who goes after his opponents. He seemed to play as if he had a mean streak. Well, now 15 months later it looks as if my sources were correct.

Being in the League as long as I have, I understand some things very clearly. If two clubs had reservations about Jenkins, you can bet there were others. How many, I don’t know.

There have been some unsubstantiated reports that there is a disconnect between Chris Morgan, the Bears o-line coach, and Jenkins. That may or may not be fact, but if there is it’s a huge problem. It’s a difficult task to ask a coach to work with a player he doesn’t like or respect. It will NEVER work. Morgan, who is highly respected around the League, was with the Pittsburgh Steelers last year, and I don’t know if the Steelers were one of the clubs that had reservations about Jenkins. I also don’t know if Kansas City or Philadelphia had reservations, as those are the two clubs that GM Ryan Poles and Assistant GM Ian Cunningham worked for. If those clubs did in fact have some reservations about Jenkins, then Jenkins already had strikes against him the day those people were hired.

If there was a problem between Coach Morgan and Jenkins during OTAs then that worsened the situation. In fact, it could very well be one of the reasons the Bears signed Riley Reiff and Michael Schofield at the start of training camp. The Bears may have known the Jenkins situation wasn’t going to work out.

When I was working with Harry Hiestand, the Bears o-line coach under Lovie Smith, I would send him to work out many of the offensive linemen we had interest in. Why? His input was important because he was going to be the coach working with the player. Harry always came back with a thumbs up or down as to whether or not he wanted to work with the player. If he felt that the player would not fit in with the veteran offensive linemen we had, we sure as hell weren’t going to draft that player. The o-line room had a strong veteran presence with guys like Olin Kreutz, Roberto Garza, John Tait and Ruben Brown. We weren’t going to mess with chemistry!

Many may ask, “How can the Bears give up on a second-round draft choice before he ever really gets a chance.” The answer is simple. The present coaching staff and front office didn’t draft Jenkins, so they owe him nothing. They’re running the program the way they see fit and if a player doesn’t fit in with the way they want to do things, then he’ll be gone regardless of his draft status.

Yes, it will cost the Bears money if they trade or cut Jenkins, but the fact remains that this regime only wants the players they feel can help the Bears win as they begin their program.

Can this situation work itself out? Yes, but it will be difficult. The Rapoport report yesterday could have purposely been put out to be used as a “wake up” call to Jenkins. In other words, comply or you will be gone. If that is the case, nothing will happen for at least a few days. If the Bears are dead set on getting rid of Jenkins then he could very well be gone before you get a chance to read this. Then last year’s draft pick turns into a wasted second-round pick as they won’t get close to that in return if a trade develops.

It will be an interesting next few days at Halas Hall.

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