Bears Still Buzzing Over Khalil Mack

September 03, 2018 - 1:59 pm

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- At first, offensive tackle Charles Leno didn't believe the news when he was told Saturday morning that his Bears had just landed star pass rusher Khalil Mack.

Leno had heard the possibility floated about like the rest of us, a natural link between the Bears and Mack, but it was becoming harder to imagine a deal being struck. Sure enough, it happened. The Bears landed a superstar in Mack, and Leno rolled out of bed, ran down to his basement and started dancing.

The hit song from Mark Morrison, "Return of the Mack," played on repeat for Leno as he celebrated the big addition and was pumping through the Walter Payton Center on Monday morning as Mack joined the Bears for game week work and their opener against the Packers. 

"Everybody on our team is excited that Khalil Mack is a Chicago Bear, trust me," coach Matt Nagy said after practice.

There was a buzz throughout Halas Hall as the Bears began Week 1 work on Labor Day morning -- one different than the norm ahead of the regular season.

The Bears added a dominant pass rusher to their roster -- trading a pair of first-round picks in a blockbuster deal with the Raiders, then signing Mack to a six-year, $141-million deal that set a record for a defensive player -- because general manager Ryan Pace believes this team is ready to contend for championships.

Such a message absolutely resonates with players as an endorsement to their abilities and work. It's an investment in the individuals and the team.

"Wow," Kyle Long said. "We just got better. We got a lot better. We got a really good football player. Excited to have him."

During the last three years since Vic Fangio arrived as defensive coordinator, the Bears have seen their defense rise from one of the league's worst units into the top 10. There was plenty of confidence in what this defense would be for 2018, especially after Fangio and his coaching staff were retained with Nagy's hiring as head coach.

But adding Mack changes the dynamic for this defense. A unit that has plenty of good and promising pieces will get a big boost with Mack. Every individual on the defense can take advantage of Mack, whether it's Akiem Hicks rushing up front with more one-on-one blocks or Prince Amukamara at cornerback getting an interception because of a rush Mack created.

"Those 10 picks are looking a little bit more promising," Amukamara joked of a preseason goal of his.

Added Hicks: "He's going to make us that much more feared."

Among the greatest beneficiaries will be third-year linebacker Leonard Floyd, who went to bed Friday night as the Bears' top edge rusher and woke up with greater opportunities because of Mack. 

Floyd is trending toward playing the Bears' opener on Sunday after spending the last two weeks healing his fractured right hand. He went through work Monday with that hand casted with a protective club that will limit his rushes but perhaps only to a certain extent opposite Mack.

The Bears made Mack the highest-paid defensive player in league history not only because of their belief in what he brings but also because his prime fits within their window. Pace has been building a young roster the last three years, and the Bears appeared to be moving closer toward contention. 

Everything is different now for the Bears after making this win-now move with Mack.

"We’re trying to win and win games here," Leno said. "Change the culture of the organization."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.