Khalil Mack is the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history. He’s been the league’s best defensive player so far this season. But it took a few bye-week trips to the store for the Bears outside linebacker to appreciate just how much he is loved in his new surroundings.
He said fans have been aggressive — “in a good way” — in seeking him out to say hello. It’s a new vibe, and distinctly different from when he starred for the Raiders in the Bay Area.
“That’s the difference [from Oakland] —it’s everywhere,” he said. “It don’t matter where I’m at—HomeGoods. It could be a mother of two. And she’ll be a fan. And it’s random as hell to me.”
Mack smiled. He had a similar experience at Target, too.
“Everybody kind of recognizes you,” he said. “It’s a good feeling.”
Fans are caught up in the team’s 3-1 start, and Mack has been a big reason why. It’s made playing for the Bears a different animal than what Mack was used to in four seasons with the Raiders.
“For me and my family it has been,” he said. “They can tell, absolutely, off the bat, how it is definitely different. … It’s definitely different, but it’s a good different.”
Opposing offensive coordinators, of course, need no introduction. Only four players boast more sacks than Mack’s five — and Mack has played one fewer game than they have. He was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Month last week, becoming the first Bears player to win the award since Charles Tillman in October 2012.
“You try to do everything you can to just get it to where he can’t destroy the game,” said Dolphins head coach Adam Gase, the former Bears offensive coordinator who calls his team’s plays. “It’s always hard to stop him from affecting it in some capacity.
“This is probably the best I’ve ever seen him, and I thought those early years, those first couple years in Oakland, it was impressive to watch him play. But right now I think he’s just playing at a different level than anybody I’ve seen.”
Gase and Mack were in the AFC West division when Gase was an assistant with the Broncos. The Dolphins faced Mack last year, too, but the Raiders edge rusher didn’t record a sack in the game.
“He looks really good right now, I know that,” Gase said. “Last year we played them a little later in the season, and he was pretty banged up. He had some really, really good pass rushes that we just happened to barely get the ball off.”
If that happens again, Mack might just end up with his fifth strip-sack in as many games. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill has fumbled four times in five games this season. Only Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has lost more fumbles than Tannehill’s three.
Mack is aware of the opportunity. He’s tied with J.J. Watt for the NFL lead with four forced fumbles. Teammates and coaches marvel on his knack for attacking the ball on sacks.
“You watch the film … but you also know that he’s a good athlete and he makes a lot of plays for that offense,” Mack said. “So it’s going to be another challenge. You can’t really get caught up in all of that. It’s going to be a new week and a new challenge.”
And a new opportunity to make his fellow Target and HomeGoods shoppers happy.
“Absolutely,” he said. “You feel that. And that’s another reason why you want to go out and make them proud.”