BOURBONNAIS — When coach Lovie Smith mentioned players earning more practice reps based on their performances in last Saturday's exhibition, most figured the Bears coach was referring to quarterback Nathan Enderle.
Another rookie, however, opened Smith's eyes during the Bears' 10-3 victory over the Bills. Undrafted free-agent Mario Addison, a defensive end from Troy — the same school that produced pass-rush specialist DeMarcus Ware and Osi Umenyiora — found himself running with the second-team defense Monday.
With second-year player Corey Wootton expected to be sidelined a month following arthroscopic knee surgery, Addison has the opportunity to make an even stronger impression.
"I have a chance to step up and fill some shoes,'' Addison said. "It's a chance for me to just play all out.''
Addison's route to the NFL didn't go exactly as planned. The former high school quarterback and running back played linebacker in junior college before excelling as a defensive end. Some projected him as a fifth-round pick until he broke his left hand during Troy's third game at Alabama-Birmingham in Addison's hometown.
"I didn't let that hold me down,'' he said. "The rest of the games, except for the last three, I played with a club. It was a kind of rough, but I still ending the season with 10 1/2 sacks. And I missed a good five or six sacks because I had the club and couldn't grip.''
The 6-foot-3, 252-pound Addison came to grips with the reality of going undrafted and patiently waited for the right opportunity. He leaned on the advice of Ware, who led the NFL with 15 1/2 sacks last season.
"He told me to use my speed,'' Addison said. "Basically he just told me to use my hands and my speed and it would take me a long way.''
Being tutored under defensive line specialist Rod Marinelli could take Addison to another level. As an undrafted free agent, he had choices but said picking the Bears was a no-brainer because of the defensive coordinator.
"It's all about Coach Marinelli,'' Addison said. "He told me one thing that I like. I love playing with my hand in the ground, but other teams wanted me to play 3-4 (outside linebacker). He was like, 'Mario, I don't (care) how much you weigh. If you can rush, you're a rush man. If you can rush, I can clean everything else up.'
"Coach Marinelli made me feel really good about myself.''
And the Bears seem to feel pretty good about Addison's upside moving forward.