Cutdown day looms, and Ledarius hopes he has done enough to impress his coaches
Ledarius Mack was sitting in a Buffalo, New York, hotel room two years ago Tuesday, waiting for another college preseason practice to start, when he saw the news crawl along the bottom of the ESPN screen.
His brother Khalil had been traded to the Bears. He had to call his mom to confirm it.
“I didn’t know how to feel at that point,” he said. “I was like, ‘Dang, wow.’ ”
He didn’t know then that his brother — and the Bears — would two years later provide his best shot at an NFL career. The Bears signed the Buffalo outside linebacker as a rookie free agent moments after this year’s draft ended. He shipped his car, jumped on a plane and moved into Khalil’s house in Glencoe.
“That’s when the grind started,” Ledarius Mack said Tuesday. “Just every day, like it was two-a-days in college. It was like every day — work out, lift, run.”
He’ll find out this week whether the tutelage of one of the NFL’s hardest workers pays off. The Bears must trim their roster to 53 players by 3 p.m. Saturday. Ledarius Mack’s inclusion on the active roster seems unlikely, but he could be one of 16 players assigned to the practice squad the following day.
“I only can control what I can,” he said. “And what I can control is my effort and my intentions and what I put on film . . . . Give 100% effort. That’s all I can do and put my intentions on tape.”
With no preseason games, front offices and coaches have to rely on practice tape to make roster decisions. That puts undrafted rookies at a disadvantage — particularly those, like Mack, who have to try to make their impression on special teams. NFL clubs rarely do “live” special teams drills in practice.
“The thing that’s gonna affect that decision, it’s gonna come down to special teams, how he’ll be used out there or whatever that may be,” Khalil Mack said last month. “But all in all, from what I’ve seen, I’m proud of him.”
Ledarius Mack said he’ll lean on his college experience for kicks and kick coverage.
“I know the breakdown against certain things, scenarios, and basically the detail of what a coach wants,” he said. “With that being said, special teams is a huge factor, especially for me.”
Sticking on the practice squad would be an unlikely stop in Ledarius Mack’s journey. Like his brother, he focused on basketball in high school. Khalil Mack played one year of prep football — Ledarius didn’t play at all.
When he decided to try football, Ledarius joined the ASA College team in Miami for two seasons before transferring to Buffalo, Khalil’s alma mater, and redshirting in 2017. He had two sacks in 2018 but eight as a senior last year.
For being 6-1, 237 pounds, Ledarius Mack “walks around here like he’s 10 feet tall — which is exactly what you’d expect,” outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino said last month.
“He’s got plenty of juice,” Monachino said. “He’s explosive. He’s got really heavy hands. He’s done a lot of things that are really impressive. And he’s an easy learner, and so that part has been great.”
He shares Khalil’s personality traits — he’s serious, Monachino said, but can be snarky in the right moments.
“To see those two together, they have tried not to be Khalil and Khalil’s little brother — or Ledarius and Ledarius’ big brother — as much as they have been teammates, which has been kind of cool to watch,” he said. “It’s not like a dad and a son. It’s two guys that are both fighting for the same things, and it’s awesome.”
His older brother — probably his biggest fan, and critic — sounded satisfied.
“He likes to make plays,” Khalil Mack said last month. “And I can only think it’s got something to do with bloodline. I’m not gonna take any credit.”
Ledarius Mack had eight sacks as a senior at Buffalo.