BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – Khalil Mack celebrated the beginning of August Thursday by deflecting a Mitchell Trubisky pass into the air and then snagging it for an impressive interception that elicited a roar from the crowd at training camp.
It was only the latest in a series of splash plays that the star outside linebacker—who was recently voted the third best player in the NFL—has produced since stepping foot in Bourbonnais for the first time July 25.
While training camp no doubt is a grind, Mack is thrilled to be spending it on and off the practice field with his Bears teammates. He certainly would rather be in camp than working out alone like he did last summer during a contract impasse with the Oakland Raiders.
"It seems so long ago now," Mack said. "You could say I was antsy because I love the game. That is the hardest part, to be away from the game. My agent didn't want me to say that at the time—you know what I mean—but I love the game and it was real hard to stay away from it for so long. This year, back in the grind, it feels great."
The Bears traded for Mack last Sept. 1 and he had a spectacular first season in Chicago. Despite missing all of training camp and the entire preseason, he was named first-team All-Pro and voted to his fourth straight Pro Bowl after recording 12.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, 11 tackles for loss and one interception that he returned 27 yards for a touchdown against the Packers.
It's scary to imagine what Mack is capable of accomplishing in 2019 after participating in training camp.
"[The practices] have been very beneficial," he said. "Just conditioning-wise, mentally. Just getting back into the game, getting back into the grind and putting the pads on and hitting guys. It's always beneficial and it's going to go a long way throughout the season as well."
Mack was dominant on the field last season and has continued to perform at the same high level in training camp. But that doesn't mean that he can't get better. The 2016 NFL defensive player of the year is determined to improve all aspects of the game.
"[Former Raiders teammate] Charles Woodson told me a long time ago when he's good at everything on the football field he's going to be done playing," Mack said. "Ultimately he retired because he was the best at what he did. But yeah man, it's about [working on] the little things. Whether it's get-off, feet, there's always something you can get better at."
That's no doubt a scary thought for offenses that Mack will face this season. His Bears teammates on the other side of the ball can relate. The 6-3, 252-pounder has been so dominant in training camp that when offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich evaluates his players that face Mack, he has to project how they would have fared against a mere mortal.
"You absolutely have to go, 'Hey, if that's a normal human being, we're going to have a shot,'" Helfrich said.