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Mack's presence adding intrigue to season opener


The high level of anticipation for Sunday night's season opener in Green Bay continues to be fueled by the expected Bears debut of All-Pro pass rusher Khalil Mack.

Acquired in a blockbuster trade with the Raiders last Saturday, the three-time Pro Bowler and 2016 NFL defensive player of the year continued his crash course with the Bears playbook Thursday, practicing with his new teammates for the second straight day.

Mack is preparing for the season opener against the Packers after sitting out Oakland's offseason program, training camp and preseason games while seeking a long-term contract.

Bears coach Matt Nagy revealed that he and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio have discussed how much the outside linebacker will play Sunday night

"That's something that we've talked about," Nagy said Thursday before practice. "Khalil had a good day [Wednesday]. It was neat seeing him get out there, run around with those pads on for the first time, with that helmet. We'll have a set plan."

Nagy acknowledged that it should be easier to get Mack up to speed than it would be for a new player who lines up on the other side of the ball.

"If it's a similar situation with an offensive guy trying to learn all the plays and everything that goes on, it's just a little bit different," Nagy said. "You can control that a little bit more on how much you want to use him.

"But for Khalil and us in general, it's just going to be knowing where he's at mentally with Vic's system and then understanding where he is physically, and matching the two together. We're not going to know really until we get into it and we just kind of gauge it."

At this point, even the Bears aren't sure how much Mack will play in Green Bay.

"It's a little bit of an unknown," Fangio said. "Everybody's a little different. Aaron Donald was in that same predicament last year, signing right before his first game that he played with a new defense, and he played 48 plays. Some other guys have played in the 20s. Everybody's individual, but it's something we're going to have to manage and keep an eye on."

Asked what Mack must show in practice to get a lot of game reps, Fangio said: "Just to see how he's moving around, how well he understands what his job is, which is very important, and just as important how his body reacts to it the next day or during the practice."

As you might expect, Fangio is quite happy that the Bears acquired Mack. But the veteran defensive coordinator knows that football is a team sport.

"I would say he could be a major help to us," Fangio said. "Any time you get a player of his ability, it can do nothing but help make you better. [It] helps make the players around him better. But he's been the same player in Oakland throughout his career—very well decorated and a lot of honors that he deserved—and Oakland was never better than [ranked] mid-20s in defense, so one guy doesn't make a whole unit, as pretty evident by that."

While that's true, the Bears already had a solid defense that ranked ninth in the NFL in points allowed and 10th in total yards last season. And Fangio knows that Mack not only is a game-changer but someone who will help his teammates flourish as well.

"Any time you add a good player," Fangio said, "he makes other players better, just like good corner play will make him better, good inside linebacker play will make everybody better. It's a chain reaction, domino effect and hopefully that's what we'll see."

Fangio hasn't had much time to get to know Mack, but the coach likes what he's seen so far.

"I didn't watch much tape of him really until after we signed him and we've just been around him the first few days," Fangio said. "I see a guy that I think innately likes to play. [He's] obviously talented. I don't see him doing anything but being a great addition for us."