BOURBONNAIS — On successive plays on a slippery track Monday at Bears camp, Khalil Mack bulled his way into the backfield, hurrying QB Mitch Trubisky into a throwaway and swallowing RB Mike Davis on a slow-developing stretch play.“Every one, man. It’s hard to stop him,” said new teammate Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who had a good sideline vantage point during his final practice on the physically unable to perform list, when asked how many drills the NFL’s premier game-wrecker off the edge has wrecked in his first summer in Bourbonnais.
Clinton-Dix was exaggerating, of course, but can he blamed? Mack has been easily as impressive as anyone in Bourbonnais, and like the rest of his teammates, Clinton-Dix is seeing it up close and personal on the practice fields of Olivet Nazarene for the first time.
And after recording the third-most sacks in franchise history — 12 ½ in 14 games, including at least two when he was clearly limited by an ankle injury — and a career-high six forced fumbles en route to his third first-team All-Pro nod in the past four seasons there’s ample evidence to suggest his encore will be even more unbelievable.
Not only did Mack endure for the most significant injury of his five-year career, remember, he showed up on the eve of Week 1. No practice, no preseason, no playbook until September.
“Very beneficial,” Mack said of having an actual training camp this time around. “Just conditioning-wise, mentally. Just getting back into the game, getting back into the grind and putting the pads on and hitting guys. It’s always beneficial and it’s going to go a long way throughout the season as well.”
There’s no debating that Mack’s arrival last fall elevated an entire franchise, but nowhere more so than a defense that was downright dominant. Readers know the averages by now: 17.7 points allowed, 80 rushing yards allowed, 4.78 yards per play allowed and of course a staggering 4.39 percent INT rate all paced the NFL.
To hear Mack tell it, pushing his teammates to be great is simply part of the deal — as in, attempting to be the greatest to ever do it, not to mention the six-year, $141 million deal ($90 million GTD) that made him the NFL’s highest-paid defender.
“Being in the position that I’m in, you want everybody around you to be better and to get better. That’s what it’s all about,” he said. “This game is all about making everybody around you great. Not so much about making myself great, you know what I mean?”
We do, Khalil. It’s an absolute marvel to watch, which coach Matt Nagy clearly agrees with.
“He was kinda angry at Coach Chilly [senior offensive assistant Brad Childress], who was our referee, for not calling a sack early on in the two-minute stuff,” Nagy said Saturday, the final day before the pads came on, when Mack was especially destructive. “… I’d like him to keep ruining our drills. I’m OK with that.”
The reason Mack undoubtedly will do just that is because he isn’t OK with what he’s accomplished thus far, Hall of Fame trajectory or not. For the second time in four days, he mentioned ex-Raiders teammate and Gold-Jacket owner Charles Woodson’s advice on staying hungry and driven.
“You’re running out of time, man. There’s not that much time,” he said. “C-Wood used to say … I keep referring back to C-Wood and Justin Tuck, man, all these older dudes, because they let us know at an early point in my career it’s like, man, we ain’t got no time to waste. We’re trying to win. We old, we’re trying to win. That’s the same thing. Same mindset. We’re running out of time.
“You’ve gotta win. Gotta win now.”
At 28, Mack is still in ascent. His top priority is ensuring the same can be said for what’s already a Super Bowl-caliber Bears defense.