Poles explain Bears’ plan to rebuild ‘talented’ Leatherwood appeared first on NBC Sports Chicago
LAKE FOREST – The Bears were the only NFL team to claim offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood off waivers after he was released by the Las Vegas Raiders.
The No. 17 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft struggled at right tackle during his rookie season before the Silver and Black moved him inside at guard. He did well inside, but with a new regime coming into this offseason, Leatherwood was let go after a subpar preseason that had coach Josh McDaniels urging him to work on his fundamentals and technique.
Adding Leatherwood makes a lot of sense for a Bears team looking for as much talent as they can find.
Leatherwood is a physical specimen with a high football IQ who can play inside and outside. Leatherwood worked at right tackle in his first practice with the Bears on Thursday, but Bears general manager Ryan Poles said they like Leatherwood playing multiple positions.
As the Bears did when they acquired N’Keal Harry, Poles hopes his coaching staff, led by offensive line coach Chris Morgan, can help Leatherwood polish the edges and reach the potential he showed at Alabama.
“I think the big thing is to come back, talented player, physically gifted for sure,” Poles said of Leatherwood on Thursday. “Original in his size and movement. And in terms of success with him here, I think we all believe in player development here, and we’ve put pieces in place to allow players to be their best selves. So we’ll approach it this in many different ways and we will give it the opportunity to evolve and grow. Forget about choosing a design. This is over.
“So let’s start on the ground floor. Let’s build you up and take your time and whatever it is, we want to put him in the best position to succeed. Chris Morgan and his staff and everybody around, from the weight room , we’ll give him everything we’ve got.”
Leatherwood was dealt a lousy hand in Las Vegas.
Entering the draft, Leatherwood was widely viewed as a second-round talent who would need to be moved to the interior at guard in order to thrive in the NFL. But Raiders head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have made a habit of looking for need in the first round, especially for guys from blue-collar programs, and they did the same with Leatherwood.
The Raiders surprised everyone when they drafted Leatherwood in the middle of the first round.
In addition to the slot pick, the 2021 Raiders were surrounded by turmoil. Leatherwood was thrown into the fire right away at right tackle and asked to produce when he should have been given time to sit and develop. Instead, Leatherwood put together a string of poor performances at right tackle before moving inside.
With Gruden fired midseason and Mayock canned in the aftermath, Leatherwood found himself in the precarious position of being labeled a first-round “bust” with a new coach and general manager coming in.
McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler saw all they needed to during the offseason and training camp and left Leatherwood on cut day.
The Bears snapped up Lerderwood and he arrived around midnight Thursday morning. He got his physical and was on the field with his new teammates before noon.
“It was exciting,” Leatherwood said. “Just being able to have a new opportunity, coming to a new city, I’m very excited for the future.”
It makes sense for Leatherwood to work at right tackle, at least initially. Riley Rife was the backup left tackle, but the second-string right tackle has been open since Teven Jenkins moved to right guard. Leatherwood’s versatility will help give the Bears a depth option at both tackle and guard.
Coming in with limited time to learn the Bears’ system doesn’t faze Leatherwood, who is confident he can make an impact in the wide-area offense.
“I feel like I’ll be a good fit,” Leatherwood said. “I’m strong and fast. I feel like whatever it is, I’m just going to do my best to do it. It doesn’t matter what the plan is.”
Leatherwood said he wouldn’t put a timeline on when he’ll be up and ready to contribute.
It is OK. With Jenkins manning the right guard spot and Larry Borom appearing to have a handle at right tackle, the Bears can afford to be patient with Leatherwood as Morgan builds him into the best version of himself.
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