On the first drive of Alex Leatherwood’s career in a Bears uniform, he had to protect Justin Fields on four straight pass attempts.
Leatherwood held his own on each snap and allowed Fields to find his targets.
“Yeah, it was great,” Bears coach Matt Eberflus said in his Monday press conference. “Alex played well. 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.”
Leatherwood’s first drive ended with a Chase Claypool fumble, but it was an encouraging start for a player who has been anything but certain to start his NFL career. With just four games remaining in the 2022 season, Leatherwood needs to get a shot as the starting right tackle.
The Raiders cut the former first-round pick in the offseason and the Bears claimed him off waivers. Instead of gaining familiarity in Luke Getsy’s offense right away, Leatherwood simply had to focus on his health after he contracted mononucleosis – which made him lose 25 pounds.
After being placed on the Non-Football Injury List for four weeks and working himself back into playing shape, Leather finally got his first opportunity to showcase his skills in the 28-19 loss against the Packers.
“I just had a lot of fun playing,” Leatherwood said after Sunday’s game. “The loss sucks, but I enjoyed myself.”
On the Bears’ second offensive possession in the second quarter, the drive started with another passing play. Leatherwood was left one on one with Packers defensive lineman T.J. Slaton. Leatherwood held his ground and Fields connected with Equanimeous St. Brown for a 56-yard completion. David Montgomery scored a touchdown on the next play.
After that touchdown drive, Leatherwood got his next opportunity early in the fourth quarter, and again Leatherwood was a part of helping make an explosive passing play happen. This time it was N’Keal Harry’s 49-yard reception on first down. That drive ended in a Cairo Santos missed field goal.
Leatherwood played just 10 snaps against the Packers, while veteran Riley Reiff played 42. Even though Reiff may be the better player right now, the Bears need to find out what they have in the 23-year-old offensive lineman.
According to Eberflus, after the Bears return from their bye week, they will continue the rotation with the two players.
But Eberflus also said there is an opportunity for Leatherwood to become a starter if his play warrants it.
“Yeah, I mean, we’re always looking at the guys,” Eberflus said. “It was great to look at a lot of those secondary pieces yesterday. It’s certainly good to look at Alex in that same way. So we’ll let it grow naturally and see where it goes in practice and see how he performs in the games and if he keeps performing like he did, he’ll get more reps and more reps and compete for that spot.”
With the Bears out of playoff contention and a lot of players left to evaluate, that is the right mindset the coaches should have not only with Leatherwood but with the rest of the roster.