Chicago Bears Potential Breakout Players: Charles Leno Jr
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
The 2015 Chicago Bears have new upper management, a new coaching staff, new schemes on both sides of the ball and plenty of new players. It will most likely be a transition year for the Bears as players struggle to learn the new schemes and the new coaches expectations, but the upside of all this change is opportunity. Multiple positions are up for grabs on both sides of the ball and I expect there to be plenty of new starters for the Bears this season.
I’ve been covering Bears players that I feel could be poised for breakout seasons in 2015 and have already posted defensive breakout prospects, new Bears WR Eddie Royal, 3rd-year WR Marquess Wilson, and oft-injured TE Zach Miller. Today I’m covering little known offensive lineman Charles Leno Jr.
Charles Leno Jr
You won’t see Leno listed on many (if any) breakout lists this season and I’ll admit that he is a bit of a long shot, but last year’s 7th round pick has talent and more importantly the opportunity to earn a starting gig this season with the injury and sub-par play of incumbent right tackle Jordan Mills.
I’ve been a fan of Leno Jr since his time at Boise St as their left tackle and I had him projected as a 4th-5th round pick in the 2014 draft. In most years Leno would have gone much higher than the 7th round, but that draft was one of the deepest I have ever seen which is how a talented player like Bears LB Christian Jones went undrafted.
Leno Jr was a first team All-Mountain West left tackle in 2013, but started 13 games as a right tackle in 2011 so he has some experience on both sides. I thought Leno would move inside to guard at the NFL level due to a lack of height (6’4) but he has extremely long arms (34 3/8″) which allow him to play an inch or two taller. Leno’s best asset is his feet, he moves very well for a 300 pounder¹ and showed good footwork in pass protection.
His above-average agility and footwork makes him a good fit for new OC Adam Gase’s blocking scheme which relies mostly on zone-blocking. Leno’s college coach said the things that stood out most where his work ethic and smarts, which could give Leno an edge over the competition if he can pick up the Bears new offensive scheme quickly.
On paper Leno’s athleticism, footwork, and work ethic seem like a perfect fit for the Bears new blocking scheme, but the reason Leno was still available in the 7th round of the 2014 NFL draft was a lack of strength. He struggled to anchor in pass pro against stronger DEs and didn’t get as much drive in the run game as a player with his size and athleticism should have. My notes from the combine were that Leno looked “flabby”, which probably isn’t a scouting term but possibly reflected a lack of time in the weight room.
According to reports from OTAs, Leno has used the time on the bench last year to trim some flab and get considerably stronger. He has been getting positive recognition from the Bears coaching staff and even ran with the Bears starters at left tackle while Jermon Bushrod was out. I don’t think Bushrod’s job is in jeopardy, but right tackle Jordan Mills should be concerned.
As I mentioned above, Leno’s skill-set is a very good fit for Gase’s scheme and his intelligence should help him pick up the offense quickly. I’m not insinuating that Mills isn’t smart but when a player commits 6 pre-snap penalties and often blows assignments, it doesn’t reflect well on their mental capacity. Mills also plays a power game using his elite strength to win battles in the trenches, but is slow off the snap and has below-average agility. Zone-blocking schemes rely more on footwork than brute strength and Mills will have to show better footwork and technique if he’s going to be an effective zone blocker.
With a new coaching staff in Chicago, there are a lot of positions up for grabs and right tackle is certainly one of them. When you consider Jordan Mills poor play last season, his lingering injuries that have kept him out of OTAs, and a skill-set that doesn’t seem to be a good fit for Gase’s blocking scheme… Leno has a realistic chance at winning the starting right tackle job. If he does end up starting in week 1, Leno’s athleticism, intelligence, and fundamentally sound blocking technique could make him a breakout player this season and solidify the right side of the Bears offensive line for the next few years.
¹ Leno’s 4.40 20-yard shuttle time was the 2nd best of all O-linemen at the combine
Next: Chicago Bears Potential Break Out Players: Zach Miller