The Bears are in the midst of what many consider the dog days of training camp. But star outside linebacker Khalil Mack hasn't lost his bark or his bite.
Even with the regular season opener still more than three weeks away, Mack denied that it's difficult to maintain a high energy level at this point of camp.
"It's not hard when you love the game and you want to come out and get better every day," he said. "That's just a reminder to the guys on the defensive side of the ball that if you're not getting better, you're getting worse, so just taking advantage of the opportunity because it's another day to get better.
"Definitely, there's some tough days. But at the end of the day, it builds character. Going through these times and fighting through these days and getting positive outcomes, it shows you what kind of team we've got. Just look forward to getting better. That's what we've got to do. We've got to get better in order to get to where we want to go."
Mack is clearly focused on what he can do to improve today. But when the six-time Pro Bowler was asked Tuesday to look ahead to the 2021 season, he smiled and told reporters: "I can already tell it's going to be fun."
Mack is especially excited to play for first-year defensive coordinator Sean Desai, who was promoted to the position in January after spending the previous eight seasons as a Bears defensive assistant. Mack sees similarities between Desai and former Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
"Vic had an understanding of not only his defense but of the players and put us in position to play at our strengths," Mack said. "And this is something that Sean is displaying as well, putting every player on the field in the best possible situations in order to shine and make plays in order to get turnovers and feed the offense."
Desai and the Bears are placing a major emphasis on generating more takeaways. After leading the NFL with 36 in 2018 when they won the NFC North championship, they produced just 19 in 2019 and 18 in 2020.
Mack has excelled at taking the ball away. Since he was acquired by the Bears in a blockbuster trade with the Raiders a week before the start of the 2018 season, he has forced 14 fumbles, recovered five fumbles and recorded two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown in 46 games.
Mack enjoys interacting with Desai, who possesses a unique background. Before being hired by the Bears in 2013, he earned a doctorate degree and served as an adjunct professor at Temple University, teaching in the master's and doctoral programs in education administration.
"He's a different guy in general, but ultimately he's a very personable guy when you talk to him," Mack said. "That's how we have so many conversations, walking through the halls and just talking and getting an understanding of each other. I definitely [see him as] a very serious guy when it comes to doing what he loves to do."
Asked how Desai is different than other coaches he's played for, Mack said: "I would say Sean has got a little bit more of a geeky side than any other coordinator I've been around. Definitely, his mind is always going, so it's definitely fun to see. It's definitely different from that standpoint. But he's cool. He's a cool dude, but he's definitely got that geeky side to him."
Mack is also a cool dude; just ask his teammates, especially those on the defensive side of the ball who try to replicate his tireless work ethic.
"I think he only knows one speed, and that's what makes him great," said safety Tashaun Gipson Sr.. "Not everybody has the luxury of playing with people like that. He's just a humble dude. He's a for-sure Hall of Famer, but he's one of the guys. That's the beautiful thing.
"He practices like he's a rookie, like it's Year 1 or Year 2 for him. That's a testament to the type of person he is, type of leader he is, type of player he is. And that's why the defense feeds off him."
"The guy is a beast," added defensive lineman Angelo Blackson. "Watching him go out and practice and perform, it definitely [rubs] off on you and lets you know how you need to work. That's just been the biggest for me is going out and watching him and trying to bring the same intensity."
The Bears were back in full pads Tuesday as they took to the Halas Hall practice fields in advance of Saturday's preseason matchup with the Buffalo Bills at Soldier Field.