Haugh: Mack Affects Many In Bears Organization

September 04, 2018 - 8:09 am
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(670 The Score) After Khalil Mack’s first practice with the Bears on Monday, coach Matt Nagy described right offensive tackle Rashaad Coward’s expression after facing the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year.

"His second play, he turned around and gave me (big) eyes when he rushed him," Nagy said. "That’s kind of good to see."

That’s kind of a reminder that with elite pass rushers like Mack, as with rearview mirrors, objects often are closer than they appear.

With Mack, that goes for the playoffs too.

Over the Labor Day weekend, the Bears went from an NFC North cellar-dweller staring at six or seven victories to a team suddenly talking postseason thanks to a bold trade with the Raiders for one of the league’s most dominant defenders.

Mack’s arrival changes everything about the 2018 Bears – for everyone. Whose reality – and perception – does it change the most for members of the organization?

Glad you asked.

Ryan Pace, general manager: Since getting a reprieve last January in the form of a two-year contract extension through 2021, Pace has attacked the job with intelligence often lacking during his first three years on the job. If Mack makes the Bears as good as he could over the next few years, the bold move could define Pace even more than trading up in 2017 to draft quarterback Mitch Trubisky second overall. The Mack trade capped an outstanding offseason for Pace in which he hired one of the NFL’s hottest young assistants to be head coach in Nagy, lured the top wide receiver (Allen Robinson) and tight end (Trey Burton) in free agency and traded for one of the three best defensive players in the league (Mack). A new, young core of players 27 or younger that Pace put together represents real hope for sustained success. Perhaps the best compliment came courtesy of an emailer, who called Pace’s moves since last season ended "Theo Epstein-like." That’s too lofty of a comparison, but Pace did regain some of the credibility lost during the Roquan Smith impasse.

Mitchell Trubisky, quarterback: We can stop calling Trubisky the most important player in the organization. The 27-year-old pass rusher guaranteed $90 million by the franchise deserves that label. Trubisky can’t control the outcome of a game yet the way Mack can, and that’s not a criticism. That’s the truth – as any AFC West opponent of the Raiders since 2014 can attest. Meanwhile, Trubisky is a 24-year-old quarterback with 12 NFL starts. Adding Mack eases the burden on Trubisky and makes the pressure on him more appropriate. Yes, Trubisky still has to fulfill the promise of a No. 2 overall pick but he doesn’t have to be the reason every Sunday that the Bears win.

Leonard Floyd, outside linebacker: Nobody on the Bears roster potentially benefits from the Mack trade more than the pass rusher on the other side, freed to wreak havoc on quarterbacks as he encounters more one-on-one pass protection. Floyd no longer becomes the Bears defensive player whom every opposing offensive coordinator will scheme to stop. A cast that looks more like a club will limit Floyd in the first month but, as Nagy pointed out after Monday’s practice, his legs still work just fine. That explosive first step still gives Floyd an advantage over most offensive tackles. In his first year as "the other guy," the 2016 first-round draft pick still has a chance to turn his third season into a breakout year.

Matt Nagy, head coach: Traditionalists will look at the addition of an elite pass rusher and think it buys Nagy time to install a new scheme and affords him the opportunity to approach the offense more conservatively as the Bears lean more heavily on their strengths: defense and special teams. But traditional left the building the moment that Nagy entered it last January. Expect Nagy to feel empowered by Mack’s arrival, aggressively calling plays to make the Bears offense as aggressive as their defense. Mack could make Nagy look like a pretty smart head coach.

Vic Fangio, defensive coordinator: When Mack was asked what he knew about Fangio at Sunday’s news conference, he referenced the great 49er defenses of Fangio’s past. It was an understandable response. It also underscored how the results of his Bears tenure tends to get overstated. His 49ers days remain the standard. As good as Bears defenses have been under Fangio, Mack offers them a chance to be great. Teams will devote two and often three blockers to slow Mack until Fangio finds ways for Floyd and Akiem Hicks to exploit that. The Bears front seven – with the addition of Mack and rookie linebacker Roquan Smith – complements athleticism with explosiveness. The Bears defense can steal games against teams with deeper rosters and bigger names. If Fangio seizes the opportunity suddenly in front of him, he could come closer in the offseason to realizing his goal of being an NFL head coach.

Roquan Smith, linebacker: Similar to Trubisky and Floyd, the amount of attention paid Mack perhaps provides less scrutiny over Smith’s every move. His game can grow at a more natural rate. His mistakes might not be as magnified – and rest assured he will make them. He’s a rookie who missed 29 days of training camp, a layoff that likely will result in mistakes that range from missed assignments to missed tackles. The last snap Smith took came in the national championship game for Georgia against Alabama last January, and the jump from reading teenager Tua Tagovailoa to future Hall of Famer in Aaron Rodgers will test Smith’s instincts and intelligence. But once his hamstring heals and he adapts to the pace of the NFL, Smith and Mack potentially give the Bears their most potent, impactful pair of athletes in the same defense since Brian Urlacher and Julius Peppers.

George McCaskey, chairman: Remember when some people wondered whether the McCaskeys would be willing to pay John Fox $5 million to not coach the final year of his contract? That notion was born of the dated, unfair perception of the Bears as cheap. The past eight months have provided the latest example proving otherwise. Consider that the Bears have guaranteed $163 million to Mack, Robinson, Burton, Gabriel, backup quarterback Chase Daniel and kicker Cody Parkey. The Bears have no problem spending money for players; they just haven’t been the right ones. By almost everybody’s measure, Mack is the right one.

David Haugh is the co-host of the Mully & Haugh Show on 670 The Score weekdays from 5-9 a.m. Listen to the show here. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidHaugh and email him at [email protected].​​