Chicago Bears head coach Matt Eberfroth said he was “definitely” surprised to see offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood appear on the NFL’s waiver line on Tuesday.
Leatherwood won the Outfield Trophy in Alabama as the nation’s best college forward in 2020, entered the NFL with the 17th overall pick in the 2021 draft, and was a rookie for the Las Vegas Raiders Started every game.
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But when Las Vegas reduced its preseason roster to the regular-season limit of 53 players on Tuesday afternoon, the Raiders waived Leatherwood despite paying about $8.477 million for 17 games.
Bears general manager Ryan Poles said he went back to scouting reports in the draft and decided to turn the outcome out as Leatherwood’s winning statement.
“I think the most important thing to come back is the talented player, the physical talent and, of course, the archetype of his size and movement,” the Pole said on Thursday. “And then in terms of the success he’s had here, I think we all believe in player development here, we’ve got the players in place to be the best version of themselves, so we’re going to address that in a lot of different ways and we’re going to give The opportunity for him to develop and grow.
“Hey, like, forget about the pick. It’s over. Let’s start on the first floor. Let’s build you up, take it slow, whatever it is, we want him to be in the best position to succeed. (Bears) Offensive line coach) Chris Morgan and his crew and everyone around the weight room, we’re going to give it our all.”
Eberflus said the Bears had inside information about Leatherwood. Bears assistant offensive line coach Austin King was the tight end coach in Las Vegas, while Bears defensive line coach Travis Smith was the assistant defensive line coach in Las Vegas last year. Rod Marinelli, the Raiders’ defensive line coach last year, is Eberflus’ mentor.
“We studied him on tape,” Eberflux said Thursday. “We looked at him. Some were with him, people who were in Vegas last year. We have a couple of coaches on staff. I know Coach Marinelli. Use that as a resource and all he gets is good reports. .
“We’re happy to have him. We’ll see where he goes from here. It’s a blank slate, a fresh start for him, and we’ll see where we start. Again, we’re not going to reveal that right now. “I’m still working with the coach. But it’s a blank slate for him and a new beginning.”
Chicago employees were impressed by one particular aspect of Leatherwood’s skills, Eberflus said.
“When you look at him, one of the things that stands out is blocking,” Eberflus said. “His running style is really good. He’s got a great balance in that. He can stick around and stay with the players. That’s what we like the most about him right now. He’s going to develop his game. He’s A young player and we have some really good coaches to help him. Chris Morgan is one of the best first-line coaches in the NFL. We’re excited to have these guys together.”
Leatherwood joined Las Vegas when Mike Mayock was general manager and Jon Gruden was head coach. During the offseason, the Raiders brought in leadership from New England, with new general manager Dave Ziegler as director of player personnel and new head coach Josh McDaniels as the Patriots’ offensive coordinator.
“Since we’ve been here in every position group, we’ve been talking about competition and trying to give every player a chance to win his job, whatever that role might be,” McDaniels was asked on Thursday when asked Leatherwood said at the time of his release. “Some people are bigger than others. We feel like we did it. We gave everyone a chance to hang out and, really, perform. So you make a lot of tough decisions with the whole lineup, and you hope you can do them well. “We’re not perfect in that regard. Hopefully we’ve done our best for the team and we’ve tried to make decisions that we think will help us going forward, so hopefully all the best to Alex. He’s here to do his best to come. Earning his role, like I said, I wish him the best of luck along the way.”
Leatherwood started at right tackle in the first four games of his NFL career and then at right back for the next 14 games, including playoff games.
Players remaining on the Las Vegas offensive line this season include offensive tackle Thayer Munford Jr., Ohio State’s 2022 seventh-round pick, and another former seventh-rounder, Jackson Barton, He played in two of his three NFL games. season.
“We’ve said it,” McDaniels said when asked about the four undrafted rookies who made No. 53. “I think sometimes you say, people hear it and pass it out the other ear. , but it’s really not about how you got here, it’s about what you do when you get here.”
Leatherwood said he’s looking forward to what he can do in Chicago rather than trying to figure out what’s going on in Las Vegas.
“It’s not really my concern,” Leatherwood said when asked about the Raiders’ turn of events. “I care more about the future and what’s happening now.”
Leatherwood arrived in Chicago around midnight Wednesday. On Thursday, he had a physical and started working with the Bears.
“I’m just here to get excited about the new opportunities I have,” Leatherwood said. “You know what I mean? I’ll make the most of it. …
“I think it’s a positive thing. I’m optimistic and I’m grateful.”
The Bears are expected to start the season with Braxton Jones at left tackle and Larry Borom at right tackle. Jones joined Chicago from southern Utah on April 30 in the fifth round of the NFL draft. Borom, a fifth-round pick from Missouri in 2021, started eight games for the Bears as a rookie.
Chicago returned to starting Cody Whitehair at left guard, selected 2021 second-round pick Steven Jenkins at right guard, and Sam Mustifer returned to center after free agency signing Lucas Patrick was injured. Jenkins started two games in tackle as a rookie.
Regarding his position, Leatherwood said he was “open to anything”.
“I think he’s capable of playing multiple positions, which is a huge plus,” the Pole said.
Chicago kicks off the 2022 season with a home game against the San Francisco 49ers at noon on September 11.
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Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group.follow him on twitter @AMarkG1.