Khalil Mack long ago told his new position coach that he wants to be the best outside linebacker of all-time.
The question is: Whom does he beat out?
“You’ve got LT, you got Derrick Thomas,” Mack said Wednesday, referencing former Giants great Lawrence Taylor and the late Chiefs star. “You got special, special guys that have played this position. And that’s all you can do, is kind of chase. You can’t really compare those guys. The best of the best.”
Mack believes he can make that list. He has to.
“I hold myself to that standard every day,” he said after the Bears’ practice during organized team activities. “Me and everybody else, we’re holding each other to a higher standard. That’s what it’s all about.”
And he’s doing it in person. The highest-paid defender in NFL history could have skipped the Bears’ voluntary OTAs. He did that last year, when he was angling for a new contract with the Raiders.
There’s a benefit to being here, particularly for a player who missed all of training camp last season and was traded eight days before the season opener.
“Schematically, just getting everything in my grasp as far as understanding the defense,” Mack said. “This is ideal. This is what you want. You want a full offseason understanding the defense.
“Two weeks, one and a half weeks before the first game of the year is not really prepared, in my opinion. But I tried to do my best last year. But it’s a whole new year. Hopefully it’s an even better year.”
It gives him a chance to learn the nuances of Chuck Pagano’s defense, even as the coordinator has vowed to keep it similar to last year’s attack.
“He’s very personable, man — very real,” Mack said. “He’s going to tell it to you how it is. Not only that, you look at his résumé, he’s worked with some of the greatest of all time.
“So, just learning from him and understanding football through his eyes has been very beneficial for me.”
Mack’s participation is a message to his team, and his head coach.
“It’s loud and clear,” coach Matt Nagy said. “No. 1 for us as coaches, when you have a player of his caliber that just shows up, there’s no, ‘Aah, well,’ ‘It’s a nag’ or anything like that. You don’t hear that. He works out every day just like all these guys. And that just speaks volumes to who our players are.”
The impact Mack had last year — despite arriving so late — still impresses Nagy.
“It’s amazing if you think about it how much he affected everybody,” Nagy said. “Not just defense, but coaches, offense, everybody. Now that he’s here, you get to see that he does things by his actions. And so he continues to do that.
“And I think he shows some of these younger kids that want to be leaders that there are different ways of doing it. It’s by showing up every day, it’s working hard and it’s making plays.”
Inside linebacker has Danny Trevathan noticed.
“He goes 100 miles per hour, but he’s smart,” he said. “He works on his craft each day. It shows out there on the football field.”
Mack spent most of the offseason here, working out — at one point, during the Super Bowl — and getting comfortable in his new home.
He even found a breakfast spot. It will stay anonymous, he said. The last time he mentioned a store he attended in the northern suburbs, someone met him at HomeGoods.
“I finally got the chance to look around [and] figure out what Chicago is all about,” he said.
And the city got a good look at him.
“Whether we were No. 1 -already, we want to stay
No. 1,” Mack said. “If we were No. 2, we want to move up to No. 1. That’s the mindset.”