Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich couldn’t contain his excitement about Khalil Mack and what the explosive pass rusher can do for the Bears.
“When he gets off the bus — wow,” Helfrich said. “That guy, he disrupts life. We have some really good-looking dudes on this football team, and he’s a guy that’s different.
“His approach — he’s in immediately with [outside linebackers] coach [Brandon] Staley and [defensive coordinator] Vic [Fangio], trying to get dialed in defensively. It’s infectious. That helps Charles Leno. That helps Bobby [Massie]. That helps all of the other guys. There’s a little spring in their step because they have to block that guy every day in practice. That impacts the defensive line and the rest of the defense as a whole in a big, big way.”
Helfrich’s response epitomized the reaction to Mack’s arrival throughout Halas Hall and all around town. Just moments earlier, Fangio — who doesn’t get excited about much outside of his golf game — predictably slowed everybody’s roll by turning the excitement meter down a notch or three.
His immediate reaction to the big news?
“Great,” Fangio said, unenthusiastically.
The impact of the monumental acquisition seems like a no-brainer: a three-time Pro Bowl pass rusher, two-time All-Pro and one-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year joining an established top-10 defense in the hands of a coordinator with an impressive history of developing linebackers. But Fangio never gets too far ahead of himself, and not even this opportune development was going to be different.
“He could be a major help for us,” Fangio said. “Anytime you get a player of his ability, it can do nothing but help make you better. It helps make the players around him better.
“But he’s been the same player in Oakland throughout his career, very well-decorated, a lot of honors that he deserved — and Oakland was never better than mid-20s in defense. So one guy doesn’t make a whole unit — as evidenced by that.”
The Raiders indeed were a middling-to-poor defensive team even with Mack’s excellence — 21st, 22nd, 26th and 23rd in yards allowed; 32nd, 22nd, 20th and 20th in points allowed in his four seasons. But the Raiders’ defense was bad when he arrived — 22nd in yards and 29th in points in 2013. With the Bears, Mack is joining a team that was 10th in yards, ninth in points and sixth in sacks per pass play in 2017. He has a chance to make a bigger impact in Chicago.
“Anytime you add a good player . . . he makes other players better,” Fangio said. “Just like good corner play will make everybody better. It’s a chain reaction, a domino effect, and hopefully that’s what we’ll see.”
The chain reaction will be interesting to watch. Before Fangio arrived in 2011, the 49ers had two Pro Bowl defensive players (Patrick Willis and Justin Smith) and one All-Pro (Willis). When Fangio arrived the same year Aldon Smith was drafted, the 49ers had four Pro Bowl defenders and four first- or second-team All-Pros. The year after that, they had six of each, with Aldon Smith second in the NFL with 19½ sacks. That’s a chain reaction.
But playing it low-key is Fangio’s style. He knows what he has.
“I see a guy that I think innately likes to play, obviously talented,” Fangio said. “I don’t see him doing anything but being a great addition for us.”
So what does Fangio have to see for Mack to play against the Packers?
“Just how he’s moving around,” Fangio said. “How well he understands what his job is, which is very important. And just as important [is] how his body reacts to it the next day or during practice.”
And so far?
“So far, it’s been good,” Fangio said.