Position Battle (Starter): On paper there isn’t much of a battle, as Charles Leno Jr seems to have the front office’s confidence. The team didn’t make any known offers for free agent left tackles which leads me to believe they are comfortable with the progress Leno Jr made in his first year as a starter.
The former 7th round pick in 2014 had some ugly moments in his first year as a starting left tackle, but didn’t have many easy match-ups and really impressed in a week 17 match-up against All-Pro DE Ziggy Ansah from the Lions. Ansah made some plays, but for most of the game Leno Jr was on an island against the NFC sack leader and neutralized him more often than not.
Leno Jr played left tackle in college in a zone blocking scheme and he has the quick feet and long arms that are an ideal fit for the zone-blocking scheme that new OC Dowell Loggains wants to run this year. He will need to continue his late season improvement to keep the job this year, but the Bears are going to give him time to grow into the position. Mainly because they don’t have anybody else ready to challenge Leno Jr for the role.
On the right side the Bears wisely gave up on the Kyle Long experience. To Long’s credit, he held his own and showed flashes of being a dominant tackle, but made too many mistakes at the position to justify moving him from right guard where he was one of the best players in the league the previous two seasons.
Former Cardinal Bobby Massie was targeted in free agency as his replacement and the 26-year-old will have the first shot to lock down the position. The Bears gave him a generous 3-year, $18M deal after a mostly disappointing career with Arizona. Massie has always been a quality run blocker but struggled in pass pro before making significant strides in 2015.
It’s possible the Bears signed Massie right before he blossoms into a well-rounded right tackle. Worst case, he should team with Long to give the Bears a powerhouse run-blocking tandem on the right side. Massie is better than Jordan Mills who manned the position for the Bears in 2014 and has considerably more experience at the position than Long. If the Bears timed it right, they may have nabbed the former 2012 4th round pick at the cusp of his prime.
If neither Leno Jr or Massie improve in 2016, the Bears don’t have much depth behind them. I’ve broken down their back-ups below and who is fighting for their right to stick on the Bears 53-man roster.
Next: Positon Battles (Back-ups)