Alex Leatherwood to play more at right tackle

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The Bears offense has grown incrementally all season, but most of those improvements have come in the run game. On Sunday, the Bears took their biggest step of the season in the pass game. Justin Fields completed 80% of his passes for the first time this year. He also surpassed 250 passing yards for the first time, and 200 passing yards for the second time. Fields deserves a lot of the credit for hitting new season highs at this stage of the season and for continuing to improve within Luke Getsy’s offense, but he couldn’t have done it without the offensive line. They also put together their best performance of the season in pass protection, and had their own season-best mark. For the first time this year, Fields wasn’t sacked.

“The protection for us, that gave Justin Fields a clean pocket,” said Matt Eberflus. “To be able to operate the offense correctly was probably the most impressive thing that we had. That we saw progress from that. That was really good.”

Each individual on the line played well in pass pro, with no repeated breakdowns. But the big change that drew a lot of attention was the beginning of a rotation between Riley Reiff and Alex Leatherwood at right tackle.

Leatherwood was a Raiders first-round draft pick last year, but Las Vegas cut bait early this offseason. Ryan Poles didn’t want to risk losing the opportunity to bring Leatherwood into the building, so he claimed Leatherwood off waivers and acquired both the player and his rookie contract. The idea was to have Leatherwood learn under offensive line coach Chris Morgan, to see if the Bears could salvage a quickly-discarded prospect. But Leatherwood contracted mono in September and went on the NFI list. He lost 25 pounds over his course with the illness and it took him a month to get back to his preferred playing weight. Leatherwood wasn’t in the building either, so he missed out on opportunities to learn the Bears’ system. Obviously, the whole ordeal was a major step back in his development and it took Leatherwood a long time to get back on the field. When he finally did in Week 13, he impressed coaches.

“It was great, Alex played well.” Eberflus said. “First action in there, I think it was 10 plays. Overall, really nice performance by him. It doesn’t surprise us. We were anxious to get him in there and see how he would do. But it doesn’t surprise us because he’s had great maturation in the system, working inside and outside. He did really well in practice. So we saw it in practice. We were expecting to see it in the game, but we were excited to see it.”

According to PFF, Leatherwood was perfect in seven pass block opportunities. He didn’t give up a single pressure. But Eberflus isn’t ready to make Leatherwood the new starting right tackle just yet. That decision will come following the bye week, and another round of self-scouting from the coaches. What Eberflus did say is that Leatherwood will continue to get playing time as part of a rotation at the very least.

“We’ll see where it goes from there and put our best guys out there.”

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