TALK­ING MACK

Cut­down day looms, and Ledar­ius hopes he has done enough to im­press his coaches

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - PATRICK FIN­LEY pfin­ley@suntimes.com @patrick­fin­ley

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.”

COUR­TESY OF UNIVER­SITY AT BUF­FALO

Ledar­ius Mack had eight sacks as a se­nior at Buf­falo.

JEFF HAYNES/AP

Khalil Mack

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