Bears' Khalil Mack still practices at training camp like a rookie

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Why Khalil Mack works like he's still a rookie at camp originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Over the course of the offseason we dig into the minutiae of the Bears roster. Who’s going to win the second starting cornerback job? How will reps be split between David Montgomery, Damien Williams and Tarik Cohen? How often will the Bears deploy 12 personnel to get Cole Kmet and Jimmy Graham on the field together?

But there’s one man we don’t talk a lot about, because his presence on the field is a given: Khalil Mack. Mack is still the most important player on the defense, even if he doesn’t generate the same offseason buzz as other guys, like Eddie Goldman and his COVID-19 saga, or Eddie Jackson and his attempt to return to form under Sean Desai.

“Every coach that I talk to that goes up against Khalil Mack, they have a plan, and two and three plans for him in every game,” Matt Nagy said at the outset of training camp.

It’s true. No other man on the Bears defense is as much of a threat to wreck a game than Mack. Despite lower pressure rates, or stat sheets that don’t pop as much as they used to, each opposing offense must respect that threat and plan accordingly.

Part of what makes Mack such a game-changer is undoubtedly natural talent. But it’s not his intrinsic gift alone that has led to his success. It’s also his exceptional work ethic.

“Oh, man, that’s Mack — c’mon now man!” said Tashaun Gipson. “I think he only knows one speed and that’s what makes him great.”

What makes Mack great, also makes the rest of the defense great too, since that work ethic is contagious.

“He practices like he’s a rookie,” Gipson said. “Like it’s Year 1 or Year 2 for him. That’s a testament to the type of person he is, type of leader he is, type of player he is. And that’s why the defense feeds off him.

“If Mack can go 100% why can’t anyone else on the defense? And that’s just the biggest thing. So you have a guy like that that’s gonna go hard every down, every play— who is anybody else on the defense to take a play off? It doesn’t work that way, not in the NFL. Having guys like that gets us ready and we feed off of him and we go from there.”

“The guy is a beast,” said Angelo Blackson. “Watching him go out and practice and perform, it definitely, it wears off on you and it let’s you know how you need to work. That’s just been the biggest for me is going out and watching him and trying to bring the same intensity.”

That intensity has popped in practice as well. There have been snaps or individual drills that Mack completely dominated, where you just sit back and say, ‘Oh yeah, he’s still got it.’

Of course there was the dust up with Adam Shaheen when the Dolphins came to Halas Hall for joint practices, too.

“Yeah, I like to have fun and that's my version of having fun,” Mack said about that particular scuffle. “That's my version of fun.”

That’s what training camp is for Mack. Fun.

It’s easy to understand why some reps may look sloppy or slow for others at this point in camp. We’re three weeks in, and Week 1 is still over three weeks away. These players are human and it’s hard to stay razor focused in the middle of the umpteenth 7-on-7 drill with the sun beating down on you, day after day. But for Mack, maintaining that edge comes easily.

“It’s not hard when you love the game, when you want to come out and get better every day,” Mack said. “That’s just a reminder to the guys on the defensive side of the ball that if you’re not getting better, then you’re getting worse, and just taking advantage of the opportunity because it’s another day to get better.”

If one thing is clear, it’s that Mack is not going to waste any of those days.

“There’s always a sense of urgency, especially from our standpoint,” Mack said earlier in training camp. “You don’t get too many years in the NFL, too many chances to win ballgames and too many chances to get to the playoffs and go all the way.

“Charles Woodson told me a long time ago, he was like, ‘You cannot waste time. This s一 is very valuable.’ I understand that now going into Year 8 and only been in the playoffs three times so far, and losing in the first round every one of them. S一 is very valuable. Time is of the essence. There’s always a sense of urgency.”

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