When the 2015 season ended, I thought Chicago Bears left tackle Charles Leno Jr. had done a good enough job to compete for the starting gig in 2016. I wasn't as down on him as some, but I would have been fine if general manager Ryan Pace brought in someone to legitimately push Leno for the left tackle spot.
After the season Pace said that Leno was a "real pleasant surprise," and that he "really exceeded expectations." Even with the seemingly glowing endorsement, I still thought the Bears would look for some competition for the 24 year old Leno.
As the offseason starting winding down, with free agency and the draft in the rear view mirror, it became apparent to me that the Bears trusted Leno. They added a right tackle in Bobby Massie and instead of flipping Kyle Long to the left side, they moved him back to right guard. They worked out a few guys and then added a veteran backup swing tackle/guard in Nate Chandler. They also ignored left tackle in the draft, all apparently because the coaching staff was confident in Leno moving forward.
At Boise State Leno started all 26 games at left tackle his last two years, and during that time the Broncos only allowed 12 total sacks. Scouts liked his pass blocking coming out of college, but he needed to add some strength and tighten up his technique. He's improved since being a 7th round pick in 2013, and Bears' o-line coach Dave Magazu says Leno is bigger and stronger this offseason when compared to last year. The extra bulk will help him in the run game as long as he has his technique on point.
Another plus for Leno this year is his ability to focus on one position. If you remember, last year he was working as the swing tackle, taking reps at both sides. He was even given an extended look at right tackle in preseason as a possible starter. His struggles on the right side prompted the Bears to move Long from right guard to right tackle, but the Bears still believed in Leno as a prospect. When starting left tackle Jermon Bushrod went down, they inserted Leno and he went on to stay there even when Bushrod was healthy.
Leno taking a step up in play is important for the Bears' pass protection this year. With newly signed Bobbie Massie on the right side, the Bears know they are getting a player that is a plus run blocker, but will struggle at times in pass pro. The 26 year old Massie may have improved his footwork this offseason, but the 'will struggle in pass pro' been the book on Massie so far. If Leno can be trusted on the left side, that means the Bears only have to occasionally chip and slide protection to the right side.
Leno's importance is also magnified, because he's tasked with protecting Jay Cutler's blind side, which is kind of a big deal.
What is your confidence level in Charles Leno Jr.?