In his second season with the Chicago Bears, offensive tackle Charles Leno is getting accustomed to change. With centers Will Montgomery and Hroniss Grasu down with injuries, as well as LT Jermon Busrod, RB Matt Forte, WR Alshon Jeffery and WR Eddie Royal all having missed time, the Bears offense seems to change week by week. Yet Leno, the club's 2014 seventh-round pick, remains undeterred by the upheaval.
“You know, it's not as if we are all strangers,” Leno told Bear Report. “We work together, we practice together. The team is built with parts that can come in when others go out, or that is my opinion anyway.”
Bushrod has been hampered by concussion and shoulder problems the past month, which has thrust Leno into the starting left-tackle role the last four games. Bushrod this week is again listed as questionable, which means Leno could start his fifth straight contest on Monday Night Football against the Chargers.
“Nobody wants another player to go down, especially somebody as good as Jermon,” Leno said. “But that is what I am here for, to step in if needed. Yes there has been a lot of change in offensive personnel due to these injuries but I don’t feel it has disrupted things all that much. Of course you want your regular starters to be in there but when they can’t do that, you work as hard as you can to keep things on a smooth track.”
The Bears have experienced two narrow losses in a row to division rivals but have the opportunity to end the losing streak tonight in San Diego.
“What we on the [offensive] line are looking to accomplish is to give [quarterback] Jay [Cutler] the protection he needs to do his thing," said Leno. "He’s been a real inspiration to all of us, getting in there and working so hard. His level of play has been really impressive. It's up to us to give him the time and the space to be effective If a defender gets through then it's on us.”
Luckily for Cutler, Leno has let very few defenders through, having given up just one sack (per Pro Football Focus) in his four starts.
Yet, as with every player on Chicago's roster, Leno is frustrated with the team’s inability to close out games.
“It's tough because we get so close then it all slips away,” he said. “We know that we’re close but we just can’t finish. I can’t pin an exact reason for that down for you right now. Looking at the game films, I’d say it's a variety of different factors, not any particular aspect of our game plan. What you have to do in situations like that is try to figure out where you personally fell short, then improve that part of your play.”
The Bears have used four different starting offensive-line combinations in seven games this season. While that hasn't helped overall continuity, Leno doesn't believe it has affected the communication up front.
“Really that hasn’t been any problem at all,” he said. “The coaches have always taken the approach that any player can be called to come in at any time, therefore you are always prepared for that eventuality. We do work extensively on communication in practice and that carries through to game situations.”
San Diego is a city that seems to have a large contingent of Bears fans, making Qualcomm Stadium feel like a home away from home for the players. Does that make preparation easier?
“Not at all,” Leno said. “You never can rely on that. We prepared with ambient noise as we always do so away games don’t turn into the kind of a situation where you can’t get the signals. We know about the Charges defense and we expect them to press and to give us a lot of different looks. At the same time we know how tight knit we are, how well we all function together as a unit. We can communicate under very difficult on-field situations.”
The Chargers have the best offense in the NFL, with a passing attack no one has been able to stop. As such, the Bears' offense will need a strong outing to keep pace on the scoreboard, although Leno doesn't foresee any drastic changes to the playbook.
“The usual stuff: Run the ball, protect the quarterback, do our job," he said. "We want to keep Jay clean. Let him throw and make great plays. He’s incredibly effective when given good protection. That’s the same mindset we have every week."