If you are to believe the opinion of most Chicago Bears fans and Chicago sports talk show hosts, you’d believe Bears starting left tackle Charles Leno Jr. is the worst starting left tackle in the history of football. However that opinion is definitely not shared by the Bears organization from Ryan Pace to John Fox to offensive line coach Dave Magazu.
It’s hard to say why this belief is so rampant without any hard evidence to support it. Other than the fact he came out of Boise St. and played in a conference that doesn’t carry the prestige of the SEC or the Big Ten there really is no reason to believe the Bears convictions about Leno Jr. are without merit.
He was unsuccessful at right tackle in the preseason so that may have stayed burned in the minds of many fans and analysts. However he’s a natural for the left side as he is a left-handed player. He excelled at Boise st. on the left side for his last 26 games in his final two seasons with the Broncos. I think Leno’s position coach Magazu said it best in this quote from a Bleacher Report blog from late October of 2015:
"I just think he’s better with his right hand and as a tackle, you really have to be versed with your inside hand. He’s comfortable and balanced right now. There is pace to his sets. Every once in a while he panics and you see him panic on a play. … But he’s feeling comfortable and feeling confident and that’s half the battle. If you’re in that groove, you know, it’s like a baseball hitter — sometimes that ball looks really big and other times it looks like a BB."
There were others who noticed his excellent play when he replaced Jermon Bushrod. This from NFL scout Dan Hatman:
That was after his performance against the Kansas City Chiefs’ two dangerous and talented pass rushers. He also fared well against Aldon Smith of the Oakland Raiders as Adam Jahns tweets here:
Pro Football Weekly’s Kevin Fishbain tweeted that he did very well against a very good and up and coming star Ziggy Ansah of the Detroit Lions.
He also showed well against the Denver Broncos. The Broncos made an adjustment and put Von Miller at ROLB going one on one with Leno who did very well giving up only one sack on a phenomenal effort to get it. Miller had to make an athletic move lunging at Bears quarterback Jay Cutler a split second before Cutler let it loose for a strip sack.
Other than that, there was not even as much as a pressure given up by Leno. Lester A. Wiltfong Jr. who does a great blog at Windy City Gridiron called Sackwatch and charts all the sacks given up by Bears’ offensive linemen each game. Here’s what he had to say about the sack and of Leno’s overall performance against Denver, arguably the best defense in the NFL in 2015.
"Leno does a decent job initially with his set, he has a good angle, he gets his hands up quickly, but Miller is just a real good pass rusher. Miller kept working till he got the edge, then he turned the corner and lunged at Cutler. One big shove, like what Long did on the first sack, might have been enough to push Miller past the pocket, but Miller had good balance as he stuck his right foot in the ground and leaped at Jay. This sack allowed is on Leno, but I thought he had one of his better games this year against Denver. He’s making a very good case that he should be the left tackle of the future."
I think a lot of the anti-Leno bias also comes from the ranking Pro Football Focus gave Leno as the 55th rated tackle in the league. However, most of his bad performances came early on as he was getting acclimated particularly in Magazu’s complicated zone blocking scheme. His run block grades were very weak early, but his pass blocking grades were solid all season. However his run blocking improved throughout the season as he went from a 33.1 PFF rating in week nine to 65.4 in week 16.
Leno also has all the traits you want from a left tackle, especially in the Bears zone blocking scheme. Maybe not his height as he’s at 6’4″, but his length is there. He measures at 34′ 3/8″ with big strong hands at 10 1/8″ to grab and reroute would be tacklers and pass rushers. His quickness and athleticism is clearly noticeable as he was the top performer in the 20 yard shuttle at the combine at a very impressive 4.40. He has excellent feet to mirror pass rushers and can get to the second level with relative ease.
On top of that, it’s encouraging that this coaching staff and front office passed up a lot of very good LT prospects in the draft which shows a high level of confidence. Behind Leno only sits journeyman tackle Nate Chandler who is hardly a challenge to unseat him anytime soon. Despair not, Bears fans. It appears the Bears have their current and most likely future starting left tackle and his name is Charles Leno.