Excitement coursed through Bears nation and Halas Hall over Labor Day weekend after the stunning acquisition of All-Pro pass rusher Khalil Mack in a trade with the Raiders.
That buzz will only intensify this week as the Bears continue preparing for their season opener against the rival Green Bay Packers Sunday night at Lambeau Field.
"We've waited a long time for this one," said right guard Kyle Long. "This whole offseason all you think about is Week 1 when that schedule comes out. Obviously, it's a huge rivalry game. It's something I've been lucky to be a part of for six years now here. I'm just really excited and appreciate to have another opportunity to go play them."
The Bears no doubt will ease both Mack and first-round draft pick Roquan Smith back into action during practices Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Both players missed all of training camp due to contract holdouts and did not play in any preseason games.
Bears are a mystery
For the Packers defense, preparing for Sunday night's season opener won't be easy. The Bears will arrive in Green Bay with a new head coach, new offense, new offensive assistants and new starters at both receiver positions and tight end.
In the preseason, the Bears didn't play their starters very much or show a lot of their playbook. So it will be intriguing to see what the new offense looks like in the first game that counts in the standings. How will first-year coach Matt Nagy call plays and involve new additions such as receivers Allen Robinson II and Taylor Gabriel and tight end Trey Burton—not to mention versatile second-year running back Tarik Cohen?
Cohen had just one touch in the preseason, a 10-yard reception. But the dynamic running back figures to be an integral part of the offense following a breakout rookie season. Selected by the Bears in the fourth round of last year's draft out of North Carolina A&T, Cohen rushed for 370 yards and two touchdowns on 87 carries, caught 53 passes for 358 yards and one TD, averaged 9.4 yards with one touchdown on 29 punt returns, averaged 22.4 yards on 26 kickoff returns and even threw a touchdown pass.
Pack prepping for Mack attack
You can be certain that the Packers offense is spending a good chunk of the week preparing to face Mack, a three-time Pro Bowler who recorded 36.5 sacks the past three seasons with the Raiders. While the Bears already had talent on a defense that ranked 10th in the NFL in total yards last season, Mack gives the unit a game-changing difference-maker who needs to be accounted for on every single play.
As an offensive assistant with the Chiefs, Nagy faced Mack twice a year each of the past four seasons. Asked how to defend him, the coach said: "Put three guys on him."
"As an offensive staff, you talk about who the guys are that you need to game plan around," Nagy said. "Sometimes there's a defense that you don't necessarily need to. Obviously, he's one that you do. The word that used to always come to mind for myself was dominance in what he does … He's a hell of a player that plays fast. You have to know where he's at, you just do. He demands that from offenses."
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