Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

September 05, 2018 at 1:08 am.

Optimism rampant with Bears after Mack trade

A new head coach, offense and numerous offseason personnel changes already had the Chicago Bears frothing in anticipation for months over the thought of their season opener Sunday night at Green Bay.

And then came Saturday’s stunning trade for premier pass rusher Khalil Mack.

“He makes this defense just a little bit more ferocious,” defensive end Akiem Hicks said. “It’s just, well, shoot, a lot bit more ferocious.

“He’s just that player, and I think he’s going to make us just that much more feared.”

Suddenly, the Bears project from a rebuilding team to possibly competing under head coach Matt Nagy for their first playoff berth since 2010.

In one move, general manager Ryan Pace shored up the one questionable area about the Bears defense, and now they head into the regular season against their ancient rivals feeling they can compete with Aaron Rodgers if only their own offense and quarterback Mitchell Trubisky elevate their games.

“Our defense just got a lot tougher,” guard Kyle Long said. “And we get to practice against a tougher defense now, and that’s going to be great for us.”

Trubisky has new targets to throw to like Allen Robinson II, Trey Burton and Taylor Gabriel, or he can lean on a running game with 1,000-yard rusher Jordan Howard and an experienced offensive line.

“I mean, what’s not to like about this offense?” Trubisky said. “There’s a lot of options. We throw the ball around a lot and we’re going to balance it out with a great running game.”

The real question is Trubisky himself, and how quickly he can improve in his first year within this offense, with only 12 games of NFL experience.

Being a perfectionist can’t hurt his rate of improvement.

“Nothing’s ever good enough,” Trubisky said. “In my eyes it could always be better.”

In recent years, the Bears went up against Rodgers and the Packers or their other two NFC North opponents without the talent or coaching to compete on even terms. They meet with four straight last-place finishes, and last year went 0-6 in the division.

A formative preseason and now Mack have them thinking much more is possible starting with Sunday night.

“I’m sure Nagy is excited just because what a great way to open up your first head coaching job,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “Sunday night against a rival. We’re all going to be ready and we’re all going to be prepared for that.”

This includes Mack, who stepped right in to practices on Monday.

“I hope that everybody has nightmares about him coming off the edge, Aaron (Rodgers) included,” Hicks said.

Mack’s presence and the possible transformation from a rebuilding team to something greater has happened so fast, it caused Nagy to reflect.

“It’s been very exciting,” Nagy said. “Probably the time I think about it the most is when I’m in my car, driving home. That’s really when you can just get away from everybody and everything and you can just kind of sit back and realize where you’re at collectively.

“It’s everybody. It’s an exciting situation for us as a team, as a city, as an organization.”

SERIES HISTORY: 195th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 95-93-6. The Bears have lost four straight to the Packers, and eight of the last nine. The Packers have won four of the five Sunday night games the teams have played, including the last one in 2014, 55-14.