From early mornings to late nights, OLB Khalil Mack proves his worth to Bears
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Outside linebacker Khalil Mack essentially lived at Halas Hall during his first week with the Bears. He arrived at 6 a.m. and left for his hotel at 10 p.m.
If his coaches had allowed it, Mack’s hours would have been even longer.
‘‘The guy had to get some sleep,’’ outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley said.
At one point, Staley and Mack went through a private walkthrough inside the Walter Payton Center.
‘‘He wanted to feel it,’’ Staley said. ‘‘He wanted to live it. It’s one thing to watch it on tape and see it on a playbook, but it’s another to go out and move.’’
Mack’s goals were obvious. He felt physically ready to play Sunday against the Packers, but he knew he needed the extra work to be mentally prepared for the game.
‘‘We really wanted to be purposeful of not skipping any steps,’’ Staley said.
The first was learning the techniques coordinator Vic Fangio’s wants his outside linebackers to use. The second was learning the core principles of Fangio’s scheme. Finally, it was seeing how those techniques and principles fit into the specific game plan for quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
‘‘As exciting as it was for him, there was a lot of work to be done to play in that first game,’’ Staley said. ‘‘He was going to do everything in his power to take advantage of every minute in the day to be able to perform like he did.’’
Mack’s performance, of course, was exceptional. He had a sack, strip and fumble recovery, then returned an interception 27 yards for a touchdown in the first half of the Packers’ 24-23 victory.
It was even more impressive considering Mack didn’t have a training camp or preseason to aid his preparations. But his performance was an indication of how special he can be for the Bears.
‘‘He’s a really vibrant guy,’’ Staley said. ‘‘He’s really got an energy about playing, practicing and training.’’
The game against the Seahawks on ‘‘Monday Night Football’’ should be even better. Not only will Mack have had another week to learn the Bears’ defense, but he also should be more physically prepared. He was on the field for 42 of the Bears’ 60 defensive snaps against the Packers.
‘‘My body was ready to play the game,’’ Mack said. ‘‘I was joking with coach Staley. I was like, ‘My body missed getting beat up, you know what I mean?’ That’s what it’s used to. But, yeah, I feel good.’’
What did Mack do to stay close to ‘‘football shape’’?
‘‘I can’t give my secrets away,’’ he said, smiling. ‘‘But I’ve definitely been putting in a lot of work, and you can kind of see that it pays off a little bit.’’
On Monday, Mack will chase around Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who was sacked six times Sunday by the Broncos.
Keeping Wilson in the pocket and preventing him from improvising is a goal for the Bears’ defense. But Mack has his sights set on Wilson. He revels in the pursuit of great quarterbacks. Most of Mack’s highlight-reel plays in Week 1 came against Packers backup DeShone Kizer.
Outside linebacker Von Miller had three of the Broncos’ six sacks of Wilson, including two in which the Seahawks inexplicably left right tackle Germain Ifedi one-on-one against him. Ifedi should be Mack’s primary matchup, too.
‘‘He’s one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the league when you think about the things he’s been able to accomplish throughout his whole career,’’ Mack said of Wilson. ‘‘It’s going to be a hell of a challenge.’’
Mack is up for anything — even if it means spending 16 hours at Halas Hall.
‘‘From the second we sat down, you knew this guy’s got a lot higher standards for himself than anybody else,’’ Staley said. ‘‘He takes his craft really, really seriously.’’