At the end of practice Wednesday at the Payton Center, left tackle Charles Leno joined his offensive linemates in enthusiastically greeting members of Simeon High School’s football team on the sideline. They weren’t just going through the motions. They were lovin’ it.
“Yeah, man,” Leno said. “I remember when I was in middle school and high school, and I went to the Raiders’ practice and saw those guys play. It gave me a little extra motivation. So I just had to go over there and show them.”
Leno, who graduated from San Leandro (California) High School in 2009, couldn’t help but notice the impact that being at an NFL practice had on those Simeon kids.
“With the music going and those guys seeing football — they get hyped,” Leno said. “They’re high schoolers. Right now, they’re doing it for straight passion. It’s good to see that.”
Ten years after he graduated from high school, Leno no longer plays solely for the love of the game. He has a four-year, $38 million contract to uphold. But these are still pretty good times for him. A seventh-round pick out of Boise State in 2014, the 6-3, 306-pound Leno is a four-year starter who made the Pro Bowl as an alternate last season. He’s on a playoff team with big expectations. And he’s a key player on an offense that has big hopes for 2019.
“Absolutely,” Leno said. “This is easily the best offense I’ve been in. I was here in 2014 with [Marc] Trestman — that offense was so-so, I would say, because we were a bad team. I’ve been on a lot of bad teams. So this is definitely the best offense I’ve been a part of.”
Playing on a winning team with legitimate Super Bowl hopes is a nice reward for Leno after some frustrating seasons. And he wants to keep it that way. That’s why he agreed to restructure his contract this week, lowering his 2019 salary-cap number from around $9 million to $3.3 million.
“I’m helping the team out,” Leno said. “I’m a team guy — that’s what I’m all about.”
Leno, who turns 28 on Oct. 9, has been a model of consistency since replacing Jermon Bushrod as the starting left tackle in 2015. He has started 62 consecutive games (including playoffs) and had played 3,955 consecutive snaps before he was replaced by Bradley Sowell in the fourth quarter as the Bears coasted home to a Week 17 victory against the Vikings last season.
He’s proud of that record of dependability. When asked to sum up the state of his career, which sure seems to be reaching a peak, he replied with one word: “Healthy.”
Leno is one of three Bears offensive linemen who have played in the Pro Bowl. Left guard Cody Whitehair made it as an alternate at center last season, and Kyle Long made it from 2013 to 2015 at guard and tackle. With all five starters returning, the Bears’
O-line has a lofty goal for 2019.
“We want to be the best O-line in the league — period,” Leno said. “We’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing. From 2017 to 2018, if you look at some of the things we’ve done — we’ve cut penalties down tremendously. We were, like, the worst team in the league in 2017, and in 2018 we were top-five. We’re trying to get even better. We’re trying to be the best O-line in the league.”
He learned a lot from Bushrod — himself an ultimate team player who essentially helped Leno replace him. And he likewise is motivated for personal gain but team-oriented.
“What’s next up for me is to help the Bears win; that’s all I want to do,” Leno said. “I just want to be the best version I can possibly be, so we can go out there and produce wins.”