Leatherwood ready for next step in process after Bears debut


CHICAGO -- When the Bears claimed Alex Leatherwood off waivers before the start of the season, they gave the former first-round pick a second chance at reaching his NFL potential. But it has been a steep climb back to the field for the Alabama product.

Leatherwood came down with mononucleosis shortly after joining the Bears and went on the Non-Football Injury List for four weeks. He lost 25 pounds during the illness, and it took him a month to get back to his comfortable playing weight. Sprinkle in the arduous task of learning the Bears' offensive scheme while playing both inside and outside on the offensive line, and it's easy to see why Leatherwood had yet to make his Bears debut.

Until Sunday.

The 23-year-old offensive lineman played 10 snaps during the Bears' 28-19 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field, spelling offensive tackle Riley Reiff for a short spell in the first half. Leatherwood held up well on the outside, even stoning a rusher to give quarterback Justin Fields enough time to deliver a 56-yard strike to Equanimeous St. Brown.

“It felt good. I had a lot of fun playing," Leatherwood said after the loss. "The loss sucks but I enjoyed myself.”

Leatherwood said the bout with mono zapped him of his wind, and he dealt with fatigue issues when returning. Getting back in playing shape was the most challenging part for Leatherwood, but he feels like he's back to where he needs to be.

“Just trying to learn the offensive scheme, learn the playstyle and the philosophy of this staff," Leatherwood said. "Things like that. Getting more comfortable and confident in where I am as a player, whether it be left tackle, right tackle, inside. Just executing at a high level.

“I feel like I’m good. Definitely could get better. It’s a process every day. Doesn’t come back over night.”

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Leatherwood knows mono came at the worst possible time for him.

The Las Vegas Raiders released him at the end of training camp, and he had been a Bear for only a handful of days before going on the NFI list for a month.

But he also knows there's nothing he can do about the bad stroke of luck. That's in the past.

“It sucked," Leatherwood said. "I’m the type of person to control what I can control. I didn’t get too down about it at all. S--t happens. I just did my best to get healthy and come back.”

Head coach Matt Eberflus said Sunday that the Bears want to get Leatherwood some playing time. With tackle Larry Borom nursing a knee/ankle injury and Reiff dealing with a back/shoulder issue, some playing time might open up for Leatherwood down the stretch.

When the Bears claimed Leatherwood off waivers, they also acquired the remaining three years of his contract and the right to exercise a fifth-year option. The hope is that he can be a future building block for an offensive line that needs a lot of work.

There's still a lot of work for Leatherwood to put in before he proves he's a long-term solution either at tackle or guard. But he was productive in 10 snaps vs. the Packers.

That's a step in the right direction.

“Just focus on me and my team," Leatherwood said when asked what he must do next. "Just narrow the scope on the things I need to do to be a better player each and every day. Do everything I can to commit myself to helping the team win.”

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