Bears not ready to name starting RT after bye week


After the Bears’ mini bye between the Commanders game and the Patriots game, the team made some significant changes. That’s when we really saw Justin Fields take on a bigger role as a runner, and saw a big uptick in offensive production overall. We also saw some personnel shuffling on the offensive line, as Lucas Patrick moved to center and Michael Schofield moved to left guardー although those changes were short lived, since Patrick hurt himself in the first quarter of his first game back and center, and Cody Whitehair’s return from IR two weeks later moved Schofield back to the bench. Regardless, many wondered whether similar changes may come following the team’s real bye week, specifically at right tackle.

In Week 13, the Bears finally worked Alex Leatherwood into the lineup, in a rotation with Riley Reiff. Leatherwood was an intriguing waiver claim just before the regular season started, and the expectation was that the 2021 first-round draft pick would compete for a starting job somewhere on the line. 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 after the Packers game. “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.”

Eberflus said before the break that at the very least Leatherwood would continue rotating in at right tackle with Reiff. When Eberflus addressed the media on Monday, however, he said the team wasn’t quite ready to name him the full time starter moving forward.

“Practice will dictate that,” Eberflus said. “But he’ll be rotating in there and we’ll see where it goes this week in practice.”

There are things to consider besides Leatherwood’s growth as a young tackle to consider as the Bears form their starting lineup, including Justin Fields’ wellbeing. Offensive line is unique, in that their play can positively or negatively impact the QB’s health. It’s not like giving a young cornerback extra playing time, where the worst case scenario is giving up some big touchdowns. If a tackle doesn’t play up to snuff, it could lead to big hits on Fields, who has already missed a game due to injury. The Bears are taking one of the most fearsome defensive lines this Sunday when they host the Eagles, too.

Leatherwood also isn’t the only player vying for the job either. Larry Borom started the year as the starting right tackle, but eventually lost his job when he suffered a concussion and Riley Reiff played well in relief. Borom got another shot when Reiff hurt himself, but then Borom got hurt again in Week 12. Eberflus said that Borom was doing ‘ok’ on Monday, but that the team will wait until Wednesday’s practice to determine what he can or can’t do.

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