Dan Hampton: Khalil Mack is best Bear in 30 years, ‘no offense to Urlacher’
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Count Dan Hampton among those excited about the Bears’ new pass-rushing star.
“Khalil Mack is special,” the Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive lineman said Thursday after appearing at Halas Hall to help unveil the Bears’ plans for their 100th season in 2019. “When I heard the Bears [traded for and] signed him, I said, ‘He’s the best player we’ve had in 30 years.’
“No offense to [Hall of Fame linebacker Brian] Urlacher, but you’ve seen how he changes the complexion of the defense.”
Mack will play a giant role Sunday night against the Vikings as the Bears try to reassert themselves as the class of the NFC North — and one of the league’s great defenses.
Mack had two sacks against the Lions in his first game back after missing two games while being hampered by a right ankle injury. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said the outside linebacker looked like himself last week, both in the pass rush and setting the edge on run plays.
“Just to see that he was confident enough to push off of [his ankle], put his foot in the ground and play normal,” Fangio said. “That’s what you could see in the games that he played when he was injured, that he wasn’t able to plant and push off and play with power.”
The Bears are in first place through Week 10 for the first time since 2012, Urlacher’s last season. But for them to stay there, they have to prove themselves against their biggest NFC North threat.
In the last three games, the Bears’ defense has fared well against inferior offensive teams: the Jets, who rank 23rd in scoring; the Bills, who are last; and the Lions, who are 20th.
To stake its claim as the best in the division, though, the defense has to be the best one on the field.
The Bears are allowing 19.4 points per game, third-fewest in the NFL. The Vikings are allowing 22.7, the fourth-fewest. The Bears dismantled the Lions last week, just as the Vikings did the week before, when they totaled 10 sacks. Bears offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said the game film should have come with a “mature audiences only” -rating.
“Our defense has to outplay their defense,” defensive end Akiem Hicks said.
It should be a big test. Hicks said the defense has been ready since July.
“We’ve been juiced up since we were going through [organized team activities] and realizing what we have in the building and realizing the type of player you have playing next to you,” Hicks said.
“I think that carries over to the season. And it’s been carrying over. But when you come to the division games, you play them boys twice and they’re gonna be ready for you. So you gotta have that extra bit of juice.”
The Bears have been squeezing their opponents, however woeful some might be. They lead the NFL with 16 interceptions, 89 points off takeaways and a plus-13 turnover margin. No NFL team has allowed fewer plays of 10-plus yards.
“That’s the difference between last year and this year — that we’re making more plays on the ball, forcing fumbles, getting interceptions,” said cornerback Prince Amukamara, who is one of 10 Bears with at least one interception. “And it’s not just one guy doing it, it’s spread throughout the group, which is also a great thing.”
Doing it against the biggest threat in the NFC North, though, will be another challenge altogether.
“If we can stand up against them and first take care of business this week, that will really separate us,” Amukamara said.