Bears

How can the Bears make Khalil Mack even better in 2019?

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USA Today

How can the Bears make Khalil Mack even better in 2019?

In the midst of Khalil Mack’s All-Pro debut season with the Bears, then-outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley offered a thought of how his star pupil could be even better in 2019. With the benefit of a full offseason of OTAs and training camp, the Bears would be able to move Mack around more within their defense, which would present tougher challenges for opposing coaching staffs trying to gameplan for him. 

Staley left for the Denver Broncos along with Vic Fangio back in January. But a new coaching staff has the same thought: There’s more to what Mack can do than we saw in 2018. And 2018 was pretty impressive. 

“There will be opportunities for him to do a variety of things from a variety of different alignments,” senior defensive assistant/outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino said. “Freedom, he has a little bit. But variety he has plenty. There’s plenty of things that we’re going to try to use him for and to do with him that allow him to showcase the things he does well.”

The No. 1 thing Mack does well, to boil it down, is wreck a game. Every head coach and offensive coordinator around the league has to develop a plan for limiting those game-wrecking abilities. It meant quick throws, the kind that leave the quarterback’s hand before Mack can even set up a pass-rushing move, for some teams. For others, it meant offering extra pass protection support through committing a tight end, running back or both to slowing him down. Mack still found a way to total 12 1/2 sacks and 73 total pressures, all while an ankle injury effectively wiped out four games in the middle of the season. 

“You’ve got a phenomenal, phenomenal athlete, all that stuff” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “He’s a great football player, but he’s a better teammate. And he’s a better person. He doesn’t say much, but actions speak louder than words. Again, he’s a great worker. He’s a smart guy. He picks things up. Not gonna say much, but out here on the football field he’s going to lead by example.” 

As the 2018 season progressed, the Bears felt more comfortable with having Mack play on the left and right during games, not one spot exclusively (in the season’s first four weeks, 166 of Mack’s snaps came on the left and 25 came on the right, per Pro Football Focus). By the playoffs, the Bears were able to strategically use Mack on either side of their defense to try to counter-act the scheming done by Eagles coach Doug Pederson (Mack played 26 snaps on the left and 26 on the right in that game, per Pro Football Focus). 

But both the previous and current coaching staffs envision Mack being able to do more than just line up on either side of the formation. And Monachino has experience in figuring out the best way to create that variety he talked about, too: He was Terrell Suggs’ position coach in 2011 when the Baltimore Ravens edge rusher won defensive player of the year honors (also: That was the lone year in which Pagano was the Ravens’ defensive coordinator). 

Suggs primarily rushed from various defensive line positions (end/outside linebacker, as designated by Pro Football Focus), but lined up off the ball on a little under 20 percent of his snaps in 2011. An NFL.com article described him as playing a “hybrid-linebacker” position, which sounds about right. 

Suggs finished 2011 with 14 sacks, seven forced fumbles and two interceptions. 

It’s only May, which means it’s far too early to predict how the Bears will use Mack. Coaches don’t even know the specifics yet. But it’s fair to expect a few different wrinkles for how Mack’s game-wrecking ability is deployed in the Bears’ defense with a full complement of offseason practices — and, too, the coaching minds of Monachino and Pagano. 

“With a player like this, you don’t even have to sit in the offense’s meeting rooms on the other side to know that they have to tend to him on every snap,” Monachino said, referencing Suggs. “They have to know where (former Pittsburgh Steelers safety) Troy Polamalu is on every snap. You gotta know where (Houston Texans edge rusher) JJ Watt is on every snap. This is a guy that you have to do that with. So with Khalil, being able to predict that they’re going to talk about, how do we tend to Khalil Mack on every snap, and then being able to move him into different spots and then to show him in different ways and to do different things with him, it’s going to be really valuable for the defense.”

The road to Super Bowl LIV filled with plenty of intrigue for Bears fans

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USA TODAY

The road to Super Bowl LIV filled with plenty of intrigue for Bears fans

Super Bowl LIV is going to have plenty of intrigue for Bears fans. There are many connections in terms of the players in the game and each team's journey to Super Bowl LIV contained plenty of points of interest for the Chicago fan base along the way. With the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers set to faceoff on February 2, 2020, let's take a look at the most important connections for Bears fans to monitor and think back on as they prepare for the big game. 

Aaron Rodgers' big dud:

Aaron Rodgers, who has otherwise had a great season (4,002 yards, 26 touchdowns), laid an absolute dud in the first half against the 49ers, resulting in the Packers entering the half down 27-0. In Rodgers' first-half performance he threw for under 70 yards, had one interception, and two fumbles, losing one of them. 

There is no shame in playing poorly against the San Francisco defense, which is No. 1 in the league in postseason total defense (yards per game) but that being said, Rodgers and the Packers were thoroughly dominated. Rodgers pick was to Emmanuel Moseley on what appeared to be a miscommunication and his fumble was a result of a bad handoff exchange between him and center Corey Linsley. 

Rodgers capped off the game with his final turnover, an interception to Richard Sherman, as the Packers fell 37-20 to the 49ers.

Welcome to "The Show" Raheem Mostert (Remember him?)

For the most diligent of Bears fans, the name Raheem Mostert may ring a bell. For those who are drawing a blank when it comes to the connection between the explosive Mostert and the Bears, you need to go back to 2016, when Mostert was a running back on the Bears practice squad. The Bears signed Mostert in Septemeber 2016 and he actually was elevated to the Bears active roster at some point that season. Mostert appeared in two games for the Bears in 2016, not seeing much action in either contest. The Bears released the running back out of Purdue on November 24, 2016. He landed on the 49ers practice squad in 2016 and was used sparingly over the years before his big break in the 2019 season. 

Mostert lit up the Packers' defense to the tune of 220 yards rushing and four touchdowns. He had touchdown runs of 36, 9, 18, and 22 yards.

The San Francisco rushing attack is extremely potent. evidenced by the fact that they had three different players rush for over 500 yards in the 2019 regular season. Mostert led the way with eight rushing touchdowns in the regular season but Matt Breida (6) wasn't too far behind. When the Bears had Mostert, he likely wasn't running the way he is now. But the 49ers are tops in the league in postseason rushing yards per game and Mostert's play is obviously a big reason, leaving Bears fans to wonder what could have been. 

The local kid vs the 2018 NFL MVP 

He didn't have to do much on Sunday but local product Jimmy Garoppolo will be making his Super Bowl debut after going

Graoppolo, who grew up in Arlington Heights, went to Rolling Meadows High School, where he performed well enough to end up at Eastern Illinois. In his three years with the Panthers, Garoppolo broke the pass completions record that was held by former Dallas Cowboys Tony Romo on his way to becoming a New England Patriot and one of the hottest trade chips in the NFL. The Pats eventually traded Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers for a second-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft in a move that many fans are still wishing the Bears would've or could've made. 

The 49ers' handpicked franchise QB had a solid 2019 regular season, throwing for 3,978 yards, 27 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. Similar to Mitchell Trubisky in 2018, "Jimmy G" is backed by a great defense that allows him to operate as stress-free as possible. While Bears fans are surely intrigued about the idea of Garoppolo as a Bear, it is no doubt Patrick Mahomes who induces the longest sighs. 

Mahomes, who the Bears and a bunch of other NFL teams now infamously passed up on in the 2017 draft, is already a league MVP who is now getting ready to play in his first Super Bowl all before the age of 25. Mahomes lit up a very physical Tennesse Titans defense, throwing for 294 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 53 yards and another touchdown. For a team that has had no trouble scoring as is, Mahomes' recent surge in rushing yards adds another dimension to an already potent attack.

Garoppolo-Trubisky comparisons could be interesting depending on how the rest of the season shakes out. But it was already unfair to compare Trubisky's solid career to what has been a meteoric rise for Mahomes in KC, and will be an even tougher comparison should Mahomes rack up some additional hardware in February. 

The Bears REALLY made an impact in this one 

We mentioned that running back Mostert was a former Chicago Bear, but with Chicago-favorite Robbie Gould still acting as the kicker for the 49ers, former Bears scored all 37 of the 49ers points on Sunday.

We told you the Bears had a strong presence in this one! Super Bowl LIV will kick off on February 2, 2020 at the Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.

Tom Brady to meet with other teams in 2020 free agency

Tom Brady to meet with other teams in 2020 free agency

Let the games begin! After spending his entire NFL career at Gillette Stadium with the New England Patriots, Tom Brady is entering free agency. Per CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora, Brady is open to talks with other teams for what is to be the last contract of his playing career.

Brady has been a staple of the Patriots franchise for 19 years. There are young New England fans who haven’t ever been alive during a time without Brady under center. The Patriots are certain to undergo changes in the future, with many wondering how much longer Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick will be at the helm of the organization, so it is understandable to see Brady ready to explore his options.

RELATED: Top 30 free agents of the 2020 NFL offseason

At 42-years-old, Brady has been telling those close to him that, unless he is sidelined by injury, he anticipates playing until age 45. Brady is also excited at the prospect of mentoring a young quarterback so that whatever organization he plays with during his final NFL stint, it is set for success after he retires. The question for Bears fans is, could that young quarterback be Mitch Trubisky?

After an uninspiring season, there is much talk about creating some competition at QB for the three-year Bears starter. Some healthy competition could drive Trubisky to play like the draft pick that Ryan Pace hoped he would be. The Bears are currently in the bottom-five of salary cap space in the NFL, meaning they would have to do some serious budgeting to be able to afford Brady, but fans will have to wait and see what Pace intends to do this off-season after a disappointing 2019 campaign.

La Canfora reports that it would “extremely surprising” if Brady were to agree to a new deal with the Patriots before free agency begins in March. There have been other reports of the Brady family moving to Connecticut (still technically in New England, but a move nonetheless) and a deep clean of Giselle Bündchen’s suite at Gillette Stadium, indicating that Brady is indeed ready to move on. We will all just have to wait and see where Brady will end up in 2020. 

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