Charles Leno has had a pretty spectacular career so far. Rarely do seventh-round picks play their way to a second contract, let alone a starting job at left tackle, but Leno's overcome the odds to become one of the Bears' key offensive pieces.
He's also a pretty good guy.
Leno posted a picture on his Twitter account Wednesday of a Bears-themed bus that was stranded on the side of the road. He initially drove by. But the symbolism screamed out to him: The Bears aren't breaking down this year.
Rather than continue driving, Leno turned around and offered assistance to the Bears fans at the wheel. He shared this picture of the encounter, along with his message to fans across the country:
To be clear, Leno did little more than provide company for the bus's owners. He made sure he didn't receive all the credit for their return to the road:
Leno did a good deed looking out for those Bears fans. Now, he has to make sure he protects Mitch Trubisky's blindside on the eve the team's first training camp practice.
All the high-flying receivers and the playmaking tight end that GM Ryan Pace added to the Chicago Bears this offseason will be rendered powerless if Mitch Trubisky doesn't have time to throw, making left tackle Charles Leno, Jr. one of the most important players on the roster this season.
The good news is Leno has already proven he's a solid starting tackle. He was the 15th-best offensive tackle in the NFL last season on Pro Football Focus' grading scale, earning an 80.4 (the highest grade of his career). Dig a little deeper into PFF's stats, however, and Leno ranked 20th in pass protection, suggesting he's in the bottom half of NFL starters in the aspect of his game the Bears need him to be reliable at. As a run blocker, Leno ranked 11th.
Still, Leno has steadily improved in each year of his career. The analytics show that. Here are his grades since his rookie season from PFF: 53.5 (2014); 56.3 (2015); 71.2 (2016); 80.4 (2017). His improvement should continue in 2018, especially with new offensive line coach Harry Hiestand fine-tuning his game.
Leno has enjoyed an unexpected rise from seventh-round pick to a player who signed a four-year, $38 million extension at the start of last season. If his development continues, the Bears have a salary-cap bargain with Leno, whose average annual salary ranks 14th among left tackles at the start of 2018.
Chicago invested big money in Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton as well as draft capital in Anthony Miller, who they selected in the second round this year by trading away a second-round pick next year to move up and grab him. The only way they'll get a return on that investment is if Leno establishes, early in the season, that Trubisky can trust him. That trust is critically important not only for an effective offense this year but also for Trubisky's overall development. If he starts seeing ghosts in the pocket because of constant pressure from his blindside, Chicago's long-term plan can easily get derailed.
Leno will benefit from Trubisky's mobility and coach Matt Nagy's creativity. He doesn't have to be a perfect left tackle. But there will be a devastating ripple effect on the rest of the offense if he struggles, making him one of the Bears' most critical players in 2018.
The Chicago Bears are entering an exciting time. From Mitchell Trubisky, the young franchise quarterback GM Ryan Pace has hung his reputation on, to a defense that may have continued its long-standing tradition at inside linebacker with first-round pick Roquan Smith, there's good reason to be optimistic.
However, football is won in the trenches, and for the Bears to have any chance at a playoff run this season, they'll need exceptional play from the offensive line.
According to Pro Football Focus, Chicago has the talent up front to contend. PFF ranked the Bears' offensive line 13th in the NFL.
13. CHICAGO BEARS
2017 season-end rank: 11th (-2)
We had this line ranked fifth at this time a season ago, but that was before Cody Whitehair disappointed in his sophomore campaign and Josh Sitton moved on to Miami. The interior that was so strong in 2016 and fueled a huge rookie campaign from Jordan Howard that all of a sudden looks much different. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though. Rookie second-round pick James Daniels out of Iowa slots into left guard and was the highest run-blocking graded center in the country last year at only 20 years old. If Whitehair can get back to his rookie level which saw him earn an 85.9 overall grade and Kyle Long can stay healthy, this will be a top line once again.
The second-round selection of James Daniels, while noted as a good pick by most analysts, still feels underappreciated. His presence allows Whitehair to focus solely on playing center (assuming Kyle Long and Daniels stay healthy) and that will go a long way in helping him return to his rookie year form, as noted by PFF.
Still, much of the success up front will depend on how well right tackle Bobby Massie plays in pass protection. He has to hold up in order for Trubisky to take advantage of his new set of skill players, and while Massie hasn't been a total liability, he needs to play more consistent football in 2018.
The Bears offense is setting up for a huge year in 2018 that will largely depend on the play of five guys who won't catch a pass or score a touchdown. If they give Trubisky time to throw and open holes for Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, a fight for the playoffs in December is a very real possibility.