This season is turning into a lesson in diplomacy for Bears left tackle Charles Leno. He’s asking officials for explanations on penalties without looking like a whiner. There’s a trick to it.
“Absolutely,” Leno said. “You don’t want to go out there and be a [jerk] to them and stuff like that. I’m going to treat them like human beings — just like I want to be treated with respect, I’m going to treat them with respect.
“So I just walk up to them respectfully and talk to them and let them know — like, ‘Hey, I just want to be clear’ — and see what they’re looking for, and move on from there.”
Five games into the season, Leno still is searching for the right answers. He has been called for eight penalties, second most among NFL offensive linemen behind Broncos guard Ronald Leary (nine).
The entire league seems to be struggling to adjust to officiating points of emphasis this season. Last season, Leno made the Pro Bowl as an alternate in part because he cut down on his penalties — from 13 in 2017 to seven last year.
In fact, he was called for one holding/illegal use of hands penalty last season. This season, he has been called for six of them — four for holding and twice for illegal use of hands. At 29, it’s unlikely he suddenly has forgotten how to play the position correctly. So he turns to the officials to settle his confusion.
“You have to let them know,” Leno said. “I’m just going to ask them what they’re seeing, what they’re looking for. Because I’ve been playing this game for six years now [in the NFL] and playing the last few years doing the same exact thing back-to-back years. It’s like, ‘How am I getting called for this in comparison to last year or previous years?’ So I’m just going to ask them to see what they’re seeing and see how I can work my game and fit it to what they’re looking for.”
It’s a leaguewide issue that literally is happening to the best of them. Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari — the best in the business — has been called for seven penalties already after being called for five all of last season.
Even Bears offensive line coach Harry Hiestand is mystified. Hiestand is a close-to-the-vest position coach who never pops off. But he couldn’t help but point to the officiating when asked about Leno’s penalty issues.
“Yeah, did you guys watch the game [Monday] night?” Hiestand said, referring to the Packers-Lions game in which there were four holding calls — besides the controversial calls that impacted the outcome. “I’m not going to be critical of the officials, but some of them [on Leno] are phantoms, honest-to-God.
“He had a couple that were clearly penalties, but [not] as many as [he’s been called for]. It was a point of emphasis for [the officials] to start the season doing it. Then they were calling them all over the place, then they backed off. I can’t win commenting on that. He’ll be fine.”
The penalties and the general subpar play of the Bears’ offensive line has put a focus on Leno, a seventh-round pick in 2014 who developed into a Pro Bowl-caliber player last season.
“Honestly, I did some self-scouting of my own [over the bye]. I looked at film — and I’m not playing at a bad level. I’m just getting penalty calls,” Leno said. “The penalties have been a cloud over my game — a big, dark cloud. Once that cloud goes away, I’m going to see some sunshine.”