Chicago Bears coaches say Khalil Mack approached this offseason with something to prove — ‘and that’s something we all can be encouraged by’

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With teams confined to online interactions during the NFL offseason because of the coronavirus pandemic, coaches need to have a certain level of trust that their players are preparing physically to be ready when they hit the field at training camp.

But Chicago Bears coaches didn’t need that blind faith when it comes to Khalil Mack.

Many times when the defense met via Zoom meetings, coordinator Chuck Pagano and outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino could see Mack training in his home workout facility during the calls.

Work ethic never has been something coaches question about Mack. But Pagano and Monachino seemed to indicate there’s an extra element to Mack’s drive this year as the Bears come off an 8-8 season and he comes off a slightly down year — by Mack’s previous production standards, at least. Pagano called him “determined” to win, and Monachino made the big statement that Mack is “training like I have never seen anybody train before.”

That all matches up with Mack’s declaration at the end of the 2019 season that “my therapy is being a part of the grind.”

“Motivation is not an issue with Khalil — never has been,” Monachino said. “But what I’ll tell you is that he has approached this offseason with something to prove, and that’s something that we all can be encouraged by. That’s something that’s exciting when a player of his caliber approaches his work the way he has approached it.”

Bears coaches have reflected about the various reasons Mack’s pass-rush totals — 8½ sacks, 14 quarterback hits — dipped to their lowest since his rookie season in 2014, noting it wasn’t about his work or attention to detail. Monachino called improving the Bears pass rush “a high, high priority for all of us, especially for Khalil.”

During his first Zoom call with the media this year, Pagano claimed much of the responsibility in his first season commanding the Bears defense, noting he needs to be better at putting Mack and others in positions to be successful. Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks’ absence because of a left elbow injury and Leonard Floyd’s poor production also didn’t help draw protection away from Mack.

In that regard, the Bears had two major offseason developments. Hicks is slated to return from his injury. And nine-year NFL veteran Robert Quinn signed a five-year, $70 million contract to replace Floyd, who signed with the Rams after the Bears cut him.

Pagano said Quinn will have hurdles to clear in moving from a 4-3 defensive end to a 3-4 outside linebacker. But if Quinn can replicate the production he had last year with the Cowboys, when he had 11½ sacks, he and Mack could form a formidable duo. Floyd had 11½ sacks in his last three seasons combined.

“Everybody just thinks (Quinn) can rush the passer, but he’s relentless, he’s tough, he’s athletic, he’s physical,” Pagano said. “He’ll play really good against the run. There’s some things he’ll have to adapt to from a schematic standpoint. But he’s done a great job to this point with picking up the playbook stuff. Just his ability to rush the passer, come off the edge (is exciting). He’s a great pro. He’s a great teammate. He’s a great person.”

Monachino called Quinn, 30, grounded and mature and said he adds some “urgency” to the outside linebackers room. He’s eager to see how the dynamic between Mack and Quinn plays out when they finally get on the field together.

“It is exciting because the two of them can make each other better on a daily basis,” Monachino said. “I also think we’re going to present some different things to the offenses we play, where they’re going to have to tend to us a little differently.”

Mack, 29, will face one other new dynamic that Monachino is interested in monitoring at training camp.

The Bears signed Mack’s younger brother, Ledarius, as an undrafted free agent out of Buffalo, and Monachino said siblings are very close. As he prepares for his seventh NFL season and third in Chicago, Khalil Mack already has played a bit of big brother to his teammates, helping guide them with his words — as well as his actions in the weight room.

“During this virtual offseason program he has done a remarkable job of starting conversation, asking questions — not only of me and Coach (Bill) Shuey but of the other players in the meeting,” Monachino said. “He has done an amazing job of leading them and giving them insight into what his process is. I just think that this is a special guy that has something to prove and has approached the last several months with a chip on his shoulder. And I think that’s good for everybody.”


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