This is what roster churn looks like: a 6-5, 312-pound man stuffing into an airplane to Chicago on Wednesday, landing at midnight and waking up early the next morning to take a physical and practice for the first time.
“It was wild,” Alex Leatherwood said.
The No. 17 overall pick just a year ago, Leatherwood was cut by the Raiders on Tuesday and claimed by the Bears the next day. It was a low-risk bet for a rebuilding team — though the Bears will owe him $5.9 million over the next three seasons.
The former Alabama star, though, is the kind of high-pedigree gamble the Bears should be taking during a rebuilding season. So is Teven Jenkins, who, a month after rumors first surfaced that he’d be traded, is penciled in as the starting right guard.
As recently as this week, Jenkins expressed some concern he might still be dealt. General manager Ryan Poles tried to quell that Thursday.
“I had a good conversation with him and I told him how proud I was of him,” Poles said. “Again, I think it’s about building the best five [players]. I think we have a good five with him at guard. So I think it’s good for us to have Teven at guard right now.”
In an alternate world, Jenkins could have turned out like Leatherwood. Though he started every game last year, Leatherwood struggled in Las Vegas, moving from right tackle to right guard, before being released by a new regime.
Leatherwood said he played backup right tackle in his first practice Thursday, though the Bears might try him at guard, too. He won’t start — at least at first.
“Just a new opportunity,” he said. “I feel like what they have going on is going to be great. I’m excited to be a part of it.”
He’ll have an opportunity. After tinkering throughout training camp, the Bears will spend all season trying to find long-term keepers on their offensive line.
“I feel like I’ll fit well,” Leatherwood said. “I’m strong and fast. I feel like no matter what it is, I’ll just give my best effort to do it. Doesn’t matter what the scheme is.”
While he acknowledged that Leatherwood needs coaching, Poles said Thursday that he considers him the “prototype in size and movement” for a lineman. The Bears will lean on offensive line coach Chris Morgan and assistant line coach Austin King, the latter of whom worked with Leatherwood in Las Vegas last year.
“I think we all believe in player development here, and we’ve put pieces in place to allow players to be their best selves,” Poles said. “So we’re going to approach that in many different ways, and we’re going to give him an opportunity to develop and grow.”
Their hope is that he’ll grow faster now that he’s away from the team that, even in the moment, appeared to over-reach when they drafted him in Round 1.
“Forget the draft pick thing,” Poles said. “That’s over. So let’s start from the ground floor. Let’s build you up and take your time and whatever that is, we want to put him in the best position to succeed.”
The Bears seemed to have finally done that with Jenkins, who played guard for the first time at the pro level two-and-a-half weeks ago. He was a tackle last year, though he missed most of the season after having back surgery during the preseason.
“Coming from Oklahoma State, getting here, and then early in training camp this year, another injury,” assistant GM Ian Cunningham said. “And then for him to come in and play guard, a position he wasn’t as familiar with, it’s just a testament to the kid, his resiliency, his work ethic. Couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Maybe one day the Bears can say the same about Leatherwood.