Roquan Smith’s return to Saturday’s practice almost completely overshadowed several Bears developments stemming from their last game.
For one, there was safety Jaquan Brisker’s hand injury that kept him out of practice last week and could be an issue as the rookie tries to return in time for the regular season opener.
The upside for the Bears, however, was the story of Teven Jenkins. Is it possible to be the Comeback Player of the Year based on training camp?
And then there’s the curious case of Larry Borom, who was apparently meant to back up veteran Riley Reiff, but suddenly played as the starter against Seattle and again Saturday in practice.
Jenkins remained the starter in Saturday’s practice as well. The independent eye of Pro Football Focus had given Jenkins an impressive 82.6 grade in its grading system for his play against Seattle, and coach Matt Eberflus disagreed.
“He did a good job in the game, played a solid game,” Eberfluss said. “Think about that for a second – coming over there for a few days and then starting over there and continuing to play. We were impressed. He did a good job. You did a good job.
“Now he has to continue to grow in the position. Like everyone else on the team, he has a lot to work on. But he had a good first outing there.”
Jenkins’ rise at right guard has put veteran free agent acquisition Michael Scofield with the backups and possibly even contending for a roster spot. Because he has the ability to play tackle as well, he could be a veteran swing player.
Either way, Eberflus still isn’t ruling anything out with practices coming up this week and Saturday’s game against Cleveland.
“There’s a lot that can happen,” Eberfluss said. “We change combinations, adjust combinations. As you’ve seen over the course of training camp, a lot has changed. Many corrections are being made.
“It’s about guys who can sustain the performance, can sustain the execution and then carry that over to the first week. So we’ll let that play out and see where it’s at.”
Eberflus sees Jenkins as a player who has embraced Chris Morgan’s coaching techniques and stepped up after suffering an unspecified injury early in camp, reportedly being upset by his dilemma, then coming back and being transferred to a new position.
“Coach Morgan is a really good coach,” Eberfluss said. “That’s what we did. That’s our job. Our job is to develop everyone on the roster and get them to step up as much as we can. That’s our job as coaches.”
The story with Borom is similar, although he has never had an injury or been reported as a player of trade interest.
Borrom started at right tackle, moved to left tackle for camp and then was moved back to right when the Bears signed Riley Reiff. Then, when Reiff appeared to take Borom’s righty spot during the rise of rookie lefty Braxton Jones Jr. Borom got the chance to play with starters before Reiff, and so far he’s done what the coaches have asked.
In fact, Eberflus wouldn’t throw cold water on the idea of Borom being the starter over the veteran. Usually Eberflus or Morgan just say they are mixing players and looking at combinations, but he uses the word starter for Borom.
“He was consistent,” Eberfluss said. “He was relatively consistent. He’s doing a good job there. He is currently in that position as a starter.
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“He’s got competition behind him and we’ll see what happens and if he can take that execution all the way.”
Asked if Reiff is now a backup option, Eberflus said. That said it all.
“We’ll let that play out,” Eberfluss said. “We’ll see where it is with him. We’re working on that with the offensive line.
“There were many pieces to the puzzle. We’ll see how far this goes.”
As for Brisker, Eberflus called it a case of waking up the day after the Aug. 13 Chiefs game with arm pain. He would be out about four weeks until the opener, but with the severity of the injury largely unknown, he couldn’t offer much as to whether the rookie is back on the schedule.
“Well, we’re hopeful,” Eberfluss said. “We hope he will come back. We’ll find out here soon, so we’re hopeful.”
Highlights from practice
Keith Traylor Born Again: The Bears had to close their last practice open to the public due to rain all morning and the threat of another afternoon of practice, and when they did, fans were denied the opportunity to see the most exciting play of all camp.
Defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga dropped into coverage with a bit of trickery and disguise, picked off Justin Fields near the 20-yard line on the numbers and cut outside, then disappeared for the TD.
It wasn’t that simple. Tonga, of course, is the heaviest player on defense at 338 pounds.
For the longtime Bears beat reporters, it was Keith Traylor’s game all over again, except Tonga made it to the end zone. Traylor had a pick against Jacksonville’s Mark Brunell and ran wild with the 340-pounder for a 67-yard punt return during the regular-season finale as the Bears won the 2001 NFC Central title.
“It happens sometimes, yes,” Eberfluss said. “And that happened. Trust me. And I thought our guys did a good job blocking.
“So on those interceptions, we turn them into returns like punt returns. So everyone has work to do. So when you want to score in defence, you have to organize it. So the guys did an outstanding job organizing this comeback. And it was an instant reaction. So there was no hesitation. Everyone went to work. We all got blocks, stayed on our blocks and he got it all the way back.”
For his efforts, Tonga was mobbed in the end zone by defensive teammates and they piled on top of him, creating a mountain of screaming players.
Queuing up: Returning to practice were a group of secondary players who have been out of various parts of camp. As for safety Dane Cruikshank, he has rarely been on the field since arriving in free agency. But he came back and was beaten by Justin Fields in the red zone, 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 some individual work done, but backup Jaylon Jones was still working with starters during the scrimmage. … Running back David Montgomery returned after missing earlier in the preseason, but Trestan Ebner did not practice. … Linebacker Matthew Adams, who suffered a shoulder injury in Thursday’s game, has been fine and has been practicing with starters as the weakside because Smith is getting stronger and is just doing individual work for now. … Sidelined, but with no indication of an injury, was defensive end Al-Quadeen Muhammad. … Wide receiver Tajae Sharpe is still out after missing the Seattle game. … There was no sign of Caleb Johnson, who left the Seattle game with an ankle injury. … Fullback Cary Blasingame was benched late in the Seattle game with a large ice pack on his knee, but that 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 in a red-zone scrimmage, beating Adams. … Defensive tackle Trevon Coley, who has three sacks before the season, got some second-team reps after being third-team.
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