Roquan Smith’s return to Saturday’s practice almost entirely overshadowed some of the Bears’ developments coming out of their last game.
For one there was a hand injury to safety Jaquan Brisker that kept him out of practice last week and could be a problem as the rookie tries to return in time for the regular season opener. The Tribune reported he had thumb surgery and could be out in September, but the opening isn’t until Sept. 11.
However, on the positive side for the Bears was the story of Teven Jenkins.
Is it possible to get the player of the year back based on training camp?
And then there’s the curious case of Larry Borom, apparently destined to back up veteran Riley Reiff but suddenly playing the starters against Seattle and again Saturday in practice.
Jenkins remained the starter in Saturday’s practice. The independent eye of Pro Football Focus had given Jenkins a spectacular 82.6 grade in its rating system for his play against Seattle, and coach Matt Eberflus disagreed.
“He did a good job in the game, he played a solid game,” Eberflus said. “You think about it for a second – coming in there for a few days and then starting there and playing. We were impressed. He did a good job. He did a good job.
“Now he has to continue to grow in position. Like everyone else in the team, he has a lot to work on. But he had a good first outing there.”
Jenkins’ rise to right guard has left veteran free agent acquisition Michael Schofield with the reserves and possibly even fighting for a roster spot. Because he has the ability to play the swing as well, he can be a veteran swing player.
Either way, Eberflus isn’t taking anything for granted just yet with practices coming up this week and Saturday’s game against Cleveland.
“There’s a lot that can happen,” Eberflus said. “We’re changing combinations, adjusting combinations. As you’ve seen during training camp, a lot of things have changed. A lot of adjustments are happening.
“It’s about guys that can back up the performance, can back up the execution and then carry it into Week 1. So we’ll let him play and see where he’s at.”
Eberflus sees Jenkins as a player who has picked up coach Chris Morgan’s techniques and stepped up after suffering an unspecified injury when camp began, was reportedly upset about his dilemma, then returned and moved up a position new.
“Coach Morgan is a really good coach,” Eberflus said. “That’s what we did. That’s our job. Our job is to develop everybody on the roster and get them to step up as much as we can. That’s our job as coaches.”
Borromeo’s story is similar, although he has never had an injury or been reported as a player of commercial interest.
Borom started at right tackle, moved to left tackle for camp and then moved back to the right side when the Bears signed Riley Reiff. Then, when Reiff appeared to spot Borom’s tackle on a left-handed pitch, Braxton Jones Jr. Borom got the chance to play starters ahead of Reiff and so far has done what the coaches have asked.
In fact, Eberflus wouldn’t throw cold water on the idea of Borom being the starter instead of the veteran. Normally, Eberflus or Morgan would just say they’re shuffling the players and looking at combinations, but he’s using the starting word for Borom.
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“He’s been consistent,” Eberflus said. “He’s been relatively consistent. He’s doing a good job there. Right now, he’s in that position as a starter.
“He’s got competition behind him and we’ll see what happens and see if he can carry that execution to the end.”
Asked if Reiff is now a backup, Eberflus questioned. That said it all.
“We’re going to let it happen,” Eberflus said. “We’ll see where he’s at with him. We’re working on him with the offensive line.
“It’s been a lot of pieces to the puzzle. We’ll see where it goes.”
As for Brisker, Eberflus called it a case of waking up the day after the Aug. 13 Chiefs game with a sore hand. In the opener he would have been out about four weeks, but with the severity of the injury largely unknown, he couldn’t offer much if the timeline has a starter’s return.
“Well, we have hope,” Eberflus said. “We hope he will come back. We’ll find out here soon, so we’re hopeful.”
Keith Traylor Born Again: The Bears had to shut down their final practice open to the general public due to rain throughout the morning and the threat of more afternoon practice, and when they did, fans were deprived of watching the most exciting play of all camp .
Defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga dropped into coverage with some trickery and disguise, picked off Justin Fields near the 20-yard line with the numbers and cut to the outside, then took off for the TD.
It wasn’t that simple. Tonga, of course, is the heaviest player on defense at 338 pounds.
For a long time the Bears beat reporters, it was Keith Traylor’s game again, except Tonga made it to the end zone. Traylor had a pick against Jacksonville’s Mark Brunell and jumped at 340 pounds for a 67-yard punt return during the regular-season finale as the Bears won the 2001 NFC Central title.
“It happens sometimes, yes,” Eberflus said. “And that happened. Trust me. And I thought our guys did a good job blocking.
“So on those interceptions, we turn them into a return as a return. So everybody has a job to do. So when you want to score on defense, you have to have it orchestrated. So the guys did a job tremendous to orchestrate that comeback. And it was an immediate response. So there was no hesitation. Everybody went to work. We all got blocks, stayed on our blocks, and he gave it back the whole way.”
For his efforts, Tonga was attacked in the end zone by fellow defenders and they piled on him, creating a mountain of screaming players.
Alignment: A group of secondary players who have been out for various parts of camp returned to practice. In the case of safety Dane Cruikshank, it’s been rare when he’s been on the field since arriving in free agency. But he bounced back and was beaten by Justin Fields in the red zone while scrambling for a TD pass in the back of the end zone to Cole Kmet. Cornerback Kindle Vildor and cornerback Duke Shelley were able to get individual work done, but linebacker Jaylon Jones was still working with the starters during the scrimmage. … Running back David Montgomery is back after missing time earlier in the preseason, but Trestan Ebner did not practice. … Linebacker Matthew Adams, who suffered a shoulder injury in Thursday’s game, was fine and practiced with the starters as the weakside because Smith is growing up and just doing individual work right now. … Sidelined but without an injury determination was defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammed. … Wide receiver Tajae Sharpe is still out after he missed the game in Seattle. … There was no sign of Caleb Johnson, who left the Seattle game with an ankle injury. … Defenseman Khari Blasingame was benched late in the Seattle game with a large ice pack on his knee, but it must have been a precaution as he practiced Saturday. In fact, he felt good enough to catch a touchdown pass near the sideline from Justin Fields on the red-zone scramble, beating Adams. … Defensive tackle Trevon Coley, who has three preseason sacks, got some second-team defensive tackle reps as he was third-team.