Ryan Poles explains Bears' plan for 'talented' Alex Leatherwood

·4 min read

Poles explains Bears' plan to rebuild 'talented' Leatherwood originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

LAKE FOREST – The Bears were the only NFL team to put in a waiver claim for offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood following his release from 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 to guard. He fared well on the interior, but with a new regime coming in this offseason, Leatherwood was let go after a subpar preseason that had head coach Josh McDaniels calling for him to work on his fundamentals and technique.

The addition of Leatherwood makes a ton of sense for a Bears team searching 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 that Leatherwood plays multiple positions.

Like 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 going back, talented player, physically gifted for sure," Poles said of Leatherwood on Thursday. "Prototype in his size and movement. And then in terms of like 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're going to approach that in many different ways, and we're going to give him an opportunity to develop and grow. Forget the draft pick thing. That's over.

"So, let's start from the ground floor. Let's build you up and take your time and whatever that is, we want to put him in the best position to succeed. Chris Morgan and his staff and everyone around, from the weight room, we're going to give it 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 have to shift inside to guard to thrive in the NFL. But Raiders head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock made a habit of reaching for need in the first round, especially for guys from blue blood programs, and did the same with Leatherwood.

The Raiders stunned everyone when they drafted Leatherwood in the middle of the first round.

Slot selection aside, the 2021 Raiders were surrounded by turmoil. Leatherwood was thrown into the fire immediately 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 after it, 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 during the offseason program and training camp and moved on from Leatherwood on cut-down day.

The Bears snapped up Leatherwood, and he arrived around midnight Thursday morning. He took his physical and was on the field with his new teammates before noon.

"It's been exciting," Leatherwood said. "Just being able to have a new opportunity, come to a new city, I'm super excited about the future."

It makes sense for Leatherwood to work at right tackle, at least initially. Riley Reiff has been the backup left tackle, but the second-string right tackle spot 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 bother Leatherwood, who is confident he can make an impact in the wide-zone attack.

"I feel like I'll fit well," Leatherwood said. "I'm strong and fast. I feel like no matter what it is, I'll just give my best effort to do it. Doesn't matter what the scheme is."

Leatherwood said he wouldn't put a timeline on when he will be up to speed and ready to contribute.

That's fine. With Jenkins grabbing the right guard spot and Larry Borom appearing to have a handle on the right tackle job, the Bears can afford to be patient with Leatherwood as Morgan builds him into the best version of himself.

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