New 49ers center Alex Mack is a California Golden Bear, but apparently, he also doubles as a Golden Retriever.
Nearly six months after signing a free-agent contract with the 49ers, Mack will make his team debut Sunday against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field, and no one is happier to have the six-time Pro Bowl selection than coach Kyle Shanahan.
"It means a ton," Shanahan told NBC Sports Bay Area's Greg Papa on "49ers Game Plan" this week. "Alex has been around a long time. I don't know whether he's 36, 37, but that many years, it's very tough to be playing at a high level. He came into this league one of the most talented centers around. He was a first-round pick, plenty of Pro Bowls, and to think that he can still do it at a high level, this long, I didn't believe it at first. I had him in (2016). I hadn't really studied him for about five years and then to watch him this offseason on the free agent tape and stuff, he was still playing the same. Maybe that is the exact same as his first four years, but almost as good because whatever he's lost in speed and things like that, he is one of the smartest guys I've been around. He can be borderline awkwardly smart at times, which is how smart he is."
Mack, who is 36 and turns 37 on Nov. 19, attended Cal from 2004 through 2008 and got his Bachelor's Degree in Legal Studies. He competed as a graduate student in Education during his final season in Berkeley.
A first-round pick by the Cleveland Browns in the 2009 NFL Draft, Mack spent the first seven seasons of his career there and teamed up with Shanahan when he was the offensive coordinator in 2014.
Shanahan became the offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons in 2015, and Mack soon followed in 2016, before the 49ers hired Shanahan and general manager John Lynch in 2017.
Now Mack and Shanahan have reunited again, this time in San Francisco after the center signed a three-year, $14.85 million contract in March.
"He's one of the guys. He loves football. The way he practices," Shanahan told Papa. "When you get an older guy like that who comes in, those guys don't go every day because their bodies can't do it the same. But Mack is still, like in 2016, he's our Golden Retriever. He's just running, chasing balls. He loves to play football. You hear him all practice. He's got the talent, but he also brings a certain standard that rubs off on guys in a very good way that I really appreciate."
Mack won't be chasing any footballs around Sunday in Detroit. Instead, he will try to keep the Lions' defense away from quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and rookie Trey Lance.