Notes, Quotes

The Sports Xchange

September 05, 2018 at 1:08 am.

–The Bears saw linebacker Khalil Mack on the practice field for the first time Monday, and shortly after practice began head coach Matt Nagy got a quick indication from a player’s facial expression of how good their new pass rusher is.

“So our right tackle (Bobby Massie), his second play, he turned around and gave me the eyes,” Nagy said, widening his eyes. “You know, one of those when he rushed him, so that’s kind of good to see.”

Mack played in a 3-4 as a rookie and then made All-Pro his second year at both defensive end and at linebacker, the first player ever to do that. So, the Bears don’t anticipate Mack needing to make an adjustment to their 3-4 defense from the Raiders’ 4-3. Besides, they play a four-man rush on 60 percent of the plays.

Hicks watched Mack and saw a fundamentally sound player regardless of defensive formations.

“He’s explosive,” Hicks said. “I watch guys’ stances, you know, if they’re taking a false step or they’re rocking a little bit.

“But he’s just off the ball straight, power through the ground and upfield getting sacks.”

Acquiring Mack and signing him to an extension sent a message to Bears players about the team’s front office.

“We’re paying a guy $141 million,” Hicks said. “We’re trying to win now. So definitely you’re behind a move like that.”

–The trade with Oakland for Mack let cornerback Prince Amukamara have some fun on social media at the expense of Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. Amukamara said Carr tweeted “no way” about the trade.

“And I put ‘way,’ but I’m pretty good friends with Derek, so it was good to bust his chops a little bit,” Amukamara said.

–First-round draft pick Roquan Smith never played in preseason due to his holdout and slight hamstring pull, but it’s likely he’ll get on the field Sunday night.

“There hasn’t been a setback,” Nagy said. “He’s been going well. And so we’re getting to that point where let’s just, again, let’s keep being cautiously optimistic with him but we like where he’s at.”

Smith’s role could be limited or expanded depending on how the hamstring feels. He gives the Bears’ defense an additional big-play threat.

“Whether it’s him playing all the game or him playing in packages, our coaches will balance that out and they’ll know how he fits within the scheme and what he does best,” Nagy said. “And it’ll probably be a game-by-game thing to where he gets fully up to speed. Who knows, it could be the entire game, it could be 10 plays. I don’t have that answer. But we’ll find out and then we’ll go from there after Week 1.”

–The Bears pass rush took further shape when Leonard Floyd practiced Monday for the first time since suffering fractured bones in his hand Aug. 18 against Denver. Floyd has the hand in a club-style cast on the hand and the plan is to play him.

“You just gotta get used to feeling how that is, with your hand in a club, but he did well,” Nagy said. “I feel good. Yeah, I feel good that he’ll be playing.”

Floyd has battled through a series of injuries in his two-plus years in the league. Until Mack came to Chicago, Floyd figured to be their key pass rusher. Now he’ll team up with Mack in bringing heat off the edge.

–It hasn’t been made official yet, but Nagy all but declared Eric Kush the opening-day starter at left guard over rookie James Daniels, their second-round draft pick.

“There’s a good chance,” Nagy said. “I’m not gonna sit here and say 100 percent because we haven’t declared that yet. But there’s a good possibility that he will start.”

Daniels will be a swing guard/center and back up both spots.

“What everyone needs to understand with James is he’s a rookie and there’s a lot that goes on,” Nagy said. “We’ve evaluated everybody. He’s real close. But we have him if we need him.”

–Linebacker Khalil Mack: Whether he’s rushing the quarterback off the edge or stuffing runs in the backfield, Mack has been a big play waiting to happen. A former league defensive MVP, Mack is no mere speed rusher. He carries a full repertoire of rush moves, with a quick first step, a power surge and a relentless attitude. At 6-foot-3, 253, he’s not too small to bull rush. Mack will be valuable even when he’s not making plays, simply by drawing double teams away from Akiem Hicks or Leonard Floyd. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio would prefer to avoid many exotic blitzes off the edge, reserving his defensive backs instead for pass coverage. Without trading for Mack, the need to blitz safeties or slot corners outside the tackles looked like a necessity. Now, with a viable edge rusher on each side in Mack and Floyd, the secondary can stick to improving team-record low interception numbers recorded over the past three seasons.

–Linebacker Roquan Smith: Once Smith gets over hamstring tightness and is fully indoctrinated in Vic Fangio’s defensive scheme, he’s expected to be to the interior what the Bears hope Floyd and Mack will be outside. They want to unleash his speed. In their sub package, the Bears may blitz Smith in the A-gap besides using his great speed in coverage on tight ends, running backs or even some slot receivers. One of Smith’s greatest strengths is gap penetration to disrupt runs. In the Bears’ scheme, he’ll be able to attack gaps as nose Eddie Goldman and ends Akiem Hicks and Jonathan Bullard occupy blockers.