Bears general manager Ryan Pace is the guy who traded up for Mitch Trubisky, so he’s used to being the target of critics’ arrows. But second-round draft pick Teven Jenkins’ back injury that kept Jenkins out of training camp, necessitated surgery and landed him in injured reserve to start the 2021 season put Pace right back on the spot.
Did Pace take a chance on a player who had a previous back injury that prematurely ended Jenkins’ 2021 college season at Oklahoma State? Maybe there was a reason why Jenkins — a highly rated offensive tackle many predicted to go in the first round — was such a bargain in the second round.
Pace, who traded up from No. 52 to No. 39 overall to pounce on the opportunity to get Jenkins, pushed back against that narrative Wednesday. The back injury that popped up after offseason practices was not related to the one that ended Jenkins’ college season. This was just bad luck.
“We knew everything about his back coming out … everybody knew,” Pace said. “When he showed up for training camp he was experiencing different symptoms than he ever had in college, so we kind of worked through that. We tried to go through all of the natural processes … at the end of the day, it did require a surgery. It was a common surgery.”
As for the notion that Jenkins dropped into the second round because other teams red-flagged him for the back injury … “I’m not sure about that,” Pace said. “When we go through the draft, we not only have our medical information, we share medical information with a lot of teams — and I can tell you a lot of teams felt comfortable with him.”
Pace instead accentuated the positive. “Without getting into details, he started having some pain down his leg — I think just from the nerve,” Pace said. “The good thing about it? As soon as we did [the surgery], those symptoms went away. So we feel good about it. … And the good thing is, guys — just because he had a back surgery doesn’t mean he’s not going to have a good NFL career. We’re excited about the player, excited about where he’s heading. Now we feel we fixed the problem.”
We’ll see how that works out, but you can’t blame Bears fans for being a little bit nervous. Jenkins’ plight is awfully similar to offensive tackle Chris Williams, a 2008 first-round draft pick (14th overall) who suffered a back injury on the first day of training camp and had surgery for a herniated disc that cost him most of his rookie season.
As it turned out, Williams had played through a disc problem at Vanderbilt. But the Bears didn’t consider it a pre-existing condition. Williams started 38 games at right tackle and right guard in the next three seasons, but never lived up to his draft status.
But wait, there’s more. In 2011, first-round pick Gabe Carimi was a Week 1 starter as a rookie but suffered a dislocated right knee in his second game — a repeat of a previous injury. He returned the next season but was never the same and was traded to the Buccaneers for a sixth-round draft pick.
And in 2002, first-round pick Mark Colombo was starting his fifth game at left tackle as a rookie when he suffered a dislocated knee cap that included nerve damage. Colombo missed most of the next two seasons because of complications and was cut in 2005. In yet another unkind cut to Halas Hall, Colombo amazingly recovered after the Bears let him go — he started 88-of-96 games over the next five seasons with the Cowboys and Dolphins.
Compared to those dreadful Bears stories, anything Jenkins does at this point is almost found money. Pace effusively praised the players next in line at left tackle — 39-year-old, nine-time Pro Bowler Jason Peters (“It’s exciting … a savvy vet that’s moving well.”) and fifth-round rookie Larry Borom (“He probably has exceeded expectations a little bit.”).
Pace is still hopeful that Jenkins can play this season. But, considering the history, Bears fans will have to see it to believe it.