My name is Charles Leno Jr. and I am really happy to be here as a Chicago Bear. I'm from San Leandro, California and went to Boise State. I never really followed the Bears that closely as a young athlete. However, now that I am here, I can say with great certainty that I, and my entire family, are now diehard Bears fans.
I didn't play much football as a kid until sophomore year of high school. I was a pretty big guy and the coaches were encouraging me to give it a try. Up until that time one of my main sports interests was basketball. I'm a big guy at 6-4 and have really long arms. That's why I did pretty well on the court.
Once I tried football, I found that my size and my wingspan worked equally well in football. It was a game I picked up pretty quickly and definitely enjoyed. I was recruited by Boise State and learned so much about the how to play well during my time there.
As a high school kid I always hoped to be in some sport at a professional level, either football or basketball. I decided to concentrate on football because that seemed my best chance to make it.
I had two great O-line coaches who really helped me develop my game to the point where I had a shot at the NFL. Their names were Scott Huff and Chris Strausser. Coach Huff is still at Boise State and Coach Strausser is now the offensive line coach at Washington.
The combine was fun but at times sort of scary. There's a tremendous amount of pressure to do well. So many experts are watching your every move.
Then the draft came and that was extremely stressful. As you probably know, I was taken in the final round. Waiting all that time was not an easy way to spend the weekend but I always had faith that somebody would believe in me. Sure enough, the Bears finally called. Now it's my job to prove to the coaches that I was a good pick and that I will be productive for the team.
We had the first vets and rookies practice this week. Guess who I was across the line from? Jared Allen, one of the best defensive ends ever to play the game. Talk about full immersion into the NFL. He is such an accomplished player and such a seasoned veteran. He has moves I'd never seen before. I'd look up and think ‘There's Jared Allen'. It was surreal.
The thing that surprised me about Jared, and about all of the Bear vets, is their patience with all of us rookies. We were out there trying so hard to keep up with the tempo and execute correctly. They recognized that and encouraged us. One of the reasons I wanted to play at this level is that I wanted the competition from the NFL guys I'd only seen on TV. They play so well and so hard. They have always been my role models for excellence. Being around them raises my game.
Vets here are not unapproachable. They reach out to the new guys. All of us had welcoming messages on our phones even before we reached Halas Hall. They make it clear that they are there to help us and that we are all part of this extended family with a common goal in mind. From what I've heard from friends who are also in the NFL, that is unusual.
What do I bring to the team? First of all, I'd say my athleticism, then my size. I'm a big guy but I can move pretty fast. My reaction time is good. I could tell today that I have a long way to go, though. The tempo was way different from rookie camp just a week ago. It's a lot faster. I've got to stop thinking and start moving.
The other thing I bring is that I'm very competitive. I like to win. Anybody who has made it to this level will probably tell you that same thing. I will do what it takes to get the job done.
I'm a fast learner and I will put in the time to succeed. The playbook is huge and the terminology is different from college, but I'm learning what I need to know. It's just a new course, something new to memorize, but this time the final exam is on the field. What we did in Boise was similar in terms of overall approach but each team has its own unique slant on things.
What do I need to do to succeed? I've figured out that it's all about repetition. You get into the playbook and go over and over what's there until you understand. You go out on the field and watch the vets, then you do your own moves until they are right. My goal is to get better every day. That's why I'm here. It takes time but the result is definitely worth the effort. I'm loving every minute of this experience.
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.