Position coach: Khalil Mack itching to return but ‘at peace’ with recovery plan
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Determining whether to let linebacker Khalil Mack play through the ankle injury he suffered in Miami has been complicated by a few factors, including the fact he’s still new to the team and — according to his position coach — he has an amazing tolerance for pain.
The Bears won’t say if Mack will play Sunday against the Lions in the first of three straight NFC North games, but whether he participates in practice Wednesday will be telling. Coach Matt Nagy said Monday that Mack and wide receiver Allen Robinson (groin injury) remain day-to-day after missing the last two games.
Outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley shared the thought process behind sitting Mack.
“Just being new with him, in the Miami game, you just didn’t know how hurt he was,” Staley said. “It wasn’t like you were looking at a player that was debilitated on the field. He was still playing. And then, [against] New England, you knew he wasn’t right, but there was still enough evidence that he could play and be productive.
“I think that what we saw is, this guy is built different. This guy’s pain tolerance, his genetics, the will that he has, was probably more significant than we knew or we thought. Then, after that New England game, we just sat down. That’s that great collaboration between coaches, training staff, personnel, and we just came to the conclusion of, ‘Hey, we need to get you right. We need to get you well.’ ”
Missing his first NFL game two weeks ago against the Jets was “really hard” for Mack, Staley said, as was sitting out again Sunday in Buffalo, where he played in college.
“When you’ve played in every game as an NFL player and the game means as much as it means to him, you don’t ever want to miss it,” Staley said, “whether you’re hurt or not, or whether you know your role within a team and maybe this can help. The ultimate competitors think they can go no matter what, and play well.”
Staley praised Mack for his participation on the sideline, helping to coach his teammates even as he has been unable to play.
“I think we’ve done a good job of communicating with him, so he’s been at peace,” Staley said. “And he knows, ‘This is the direction I need to go now in order for me to get well and for us to be successful.’ ”
The Bears had enough depth to survive without Mack. But they’ll be better when he returns — perhaps as soon as Sunday. No matter where the NFC North games fall on the schedule, Staley said it’s important that Mack is healthy for the stretch run.
“When you have the season you have in front of us, it’s about getting him well,” he said. “We know we have a great stretch ahead, whether it was the divisional games or not.”