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Bears OLB Khalil Mack’s takeaway knack: ‘The ball is the most important thing’

Khalil Mack warms up prior to the game against the Seattle Seahawks. | Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Bears coach Matt Nagy didn’t need to see outside linebacker Khalil Mack race around left end Monday and bat the ball out of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson’s hand — ‘‘Just tap the ball,’’ Nagy said, still seemingly amazed — to know what he could do.

Nagy has seen it when Mack has to force himself to pull up when he’s rushing scout-team passer Chase Daniel rather than take a swipe at his hand.

It’s a skill Nagy, who spends his days trying to drill players to perfection, finds preternatural.

‘‘You can teach it, but I don’t know if you’re gonna get it,’’ he said. ‘‘He cuts angles down so well. Once he hits around that edge, he’s so athletic and has such a good feel for the pocket or the quarterback. . . .

‘‘I think a lot of that is natural instincts. You can try to teach it, but I think sometimes you have it or you don’t.’’

Mack has it.

‘‘I think it’s something that you emphasize, but that individual has to have it himself,’’ said Cardinals coach Steve Wilks, the former Panthers defensive coordinator. ‘‘And he definitely does. I just think he does a tremendous job with his edge rush, coming off the edge, really putting pressure on the QB. If he’s not getting there, he’s forcing ill-advised throws.’’

The Bears haven’t had such a force in years. In 2014-17, they returned a combined five interceptions for touchdowns. The franchise record for the most interception returns for touchdowns in a season is eight, set by Lovie Smith’s final team in 2012.

The Bears are the only team in the NFL with two pick-sixes this season: Mack’s 27-yarder against the Packers and cornerback Prince Amukamara’s 49-yarder against the Seahawks.

‘‘The ball is the most important thing on the field,’’ Mack said. ‘‘You can get the big hits, but the ball is very, very important.’’


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Mack is one of seven players to return an interception for a touchdown this season. He’s one of four players with two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

‘‘Creating a short field is a great feeling,’’ Mack said. ‘‘But it feels even better when you can score it yourself.’’

The Bears lead the NFL with 10 sacks and are tied for first with five forced fumbles.

‘‘If you can’t tell, it’s very contagious,’’ Mack said. ‘‘I feel like everybody got a piece of the ball.’’

Mack’s teammates won’t absorb his knack for turnovers just by watching him, but they’ll continue to benefit from the extra blocker teams send toward him.

Teams preach takeaways, but there’s no better teacher than a teammate who can get it done.

‘‘They’re gonna learn, too,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘They get to witness this and watch tape. To be able to see Khalil out there every day in practice, with some of the moves that he shows, it’s great for his peers to see that.’’

Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd has noticed, even though he has been limited by the club on his right hand.

‘‘Just seeing it happen, you’ll want to go out and do it yourself,’’ Floyd said. ‘‘It definitely motivates the rest of the team to go out and make those types of plays.’’

Even if no one can make them quite the way Mack can.

‘‘Whether you’re born with it or he was taught it, I think he has done a very good job getting to the ball,’’ guard Kyle Long. ‘‘He plays extremely hard, he doesn’t get blocked and he’s a guy that’s always moving toward the quarterback.’’