LAKE FOREST – A month ago, when Bears offensive lineman Stephen Jenkins first started playing the right-hander, he indicated that the biggest adjustment from interference to guard might be in his eyes.
Luke Getsy’s crime moves the linemen more than other crimes. Linemen must know where to turn and need to read and respond to what the defense is doing. This can be a challenge, especially for a young lineman who hasn’t played much since the beginning of his college career.
Jenkins thinks he’s making the right moves in the sentry position. The center has been playing for more than a month now, having appeared in two pre-season matches and two regular matches in the right guard.
When asked specifically how to improve his eyes, he referenced a play against the San Francisco 49ers in the first week. He engaged with a 49-man defensive lineman, Eric Armstead, but watched as what was happening to his right between Larry Borum’s right tackle and a 49er pass. Hasty Nick Bossa.
“I talked about how to improve my eye discipline,” Jenkins said. “My eyes went straight to Larry, and that’s where he should be. It must be because he’s counting on me to be there if he makes an internal move or something.”
After initially trying to get out at Borum, Bossa cut inside. Jenkins split from Armstead and left quarterback Sam Mustiver to deal with him. Jenkins turned to his right and completely hit Bossa in the inward movement. Bossa ended up on his back and watched from the ground as Justin Fields scrambled off the ground.
“As we continue to work it’s in line with whether I have to pick an impressive midfielder when I’m the one to go to pick him up, it’s just that I have my eyes ready for any situation,” Jenkins said.
The 24-year-old Jenkins split between reps in the right guard with lineman Lucas Patrick during the first two games of the season. Jenkins played two offensive series, then Patrick played two offensive series. Then back to Jenkins, and so on.
This week, Patrick started picking up football for the first time since injuring his thumb in July. This could be an indication that Patrick is back in position, perhaps as early as Sunday.
On the surface, this appears to be a good thing for Jenkins. This might be an opportunity for him to move into a full starting role in the right-hander, but he’s also not a lock-up.
Still high on the streak is the Bears coaching staff Sam Mustipher, who filled the position while injured Patrick and who has 26 regular NFL season starts under his belt. Prior to Patrick’s injury, Mustipher worked almost exclusively as a right-hander.
When asked if he thought he had done enough to prove he could start off with a proper guard, Jenkins laughed and indicated that he didn’t want any role in answering that question. In the end, it’s not up to him anyway.
“I’ll just say I’m working for it,” Jenkins said. “Keep going. I feel like I’m almost done.”
Jenkins knows he needs to be more consistent. That’s what offensive line coach Chris Morgan said this week as well. Yes, playing against the 49ers is one example of when Jenkins did the right thing on the football field. As with any player, there are other examples in the movie when he didn’t make the right move. He is a young player learning a new position.
“Tiffen is getting better every day,” Morgan said. “He handles more reps, sees more looks, takes more sets of passes.”
Nobody knows who the Bears will start in the right guard when Patrick eventually returns to center, whether that be Sunday or later in the season. It’s about what Matt Eberflus and the Bears coaching crew want. Do they want to continue to give Jenkins – who may have more of an upside in the long-run – a cast in the right guard? Or do they want to go with the player who gives them the best chance of winning .this week? Because they might argue that the player is Mustipher. Or will they continue to split the cast between Jenkins and Mustaver?
Jenkins has seen himself grow in a few weeks, and he’s eager to see more.
“Time is more important than anything else, the presence of these actors,” Jenkins said. “All that time two weeks ago now, I, myself, have become a better player at the moment, I feel like that. I think it feels good to have all that time to do that.”