No sacks, no problem: Bears 'thrilled' with Khalil Mack's 2019 debut

No sacks, no problem: Bears 'thrilled' with Khalil Mack's 2019 debut

Khalil Mack didn’t record a sack in his 2019 debut, yet still made a remarkable impact against the Green Bay Packers Thursday night. 

Outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino — who coached Terrell Suggs in his NFL Defensive Player of the Year season back in 2011 — said Mack made a positive impact on the vast majority of the plays he was in, likely referring to pass-rushing snaps (Mack played 58 total snaps). 

“Khalil played as well as I’ve ever had a guy play in a game,” Monachino said. “I know he would’ve preferred to impact the game more but from a down-to-down basis he impacted 31 out of the 34 plays he was in, in our favor. And that’s 88 percent, that’s a really high percentage. So thrilled with the way he played. 

“He’s an eyelash away from making five plays in that game and those five plays eventually got finished by another player on our team. So I think that he played really, really well. I know that as people are watching tape they’re seeing the same thing.”

A lot was made prior to the start of the season about just how many sacks — 15? 20? — Mack could rack up. But what we saw Thursday night was a reminder of what every NFL coach will tell you: You don’t always have to get a sack to impact a play, whether it’s collapsing the pocket or forcing a quarterback out of rhythm with pressure. 

Monachino’s goal was to make things as simple as possible for Mack and Leonard Floyd, who exploded with a two-sack game (equaling half his 2018 sack total). Notably: The Bears only dropped Mack into coverage twice. He was dropped into coverage on four or more snaps in nine of his 15 games with the Bears last year, including the playoffs. 

Mack, too, played well against the run, making five tackles. 

“I think that when we can get that to those special players — what you don’t want to do is put a bunch of rocks in their pocket that they can’t play fast,” Monachino said. “And so that’s what we did, we tried to keep it as simple as we could and we’re going to continue that trend all year.”

Thursday was Monachino’s first time working with Mack during a game, and there was another aspect about the All-Pro edge rusher that impressed the veteran coach. Mack was arguably held on multiple plays on which no flag was thrown, but did not let any frustration show from any perceived missed calls. 

“He is a super teammate,” Monachino said. “He didn’t feel once ounce of frustration the other night. All he did was celebrate with his teammates. And I had a chance to talk to him during the game and he huffed at me. He was like, come on, he said don’t worry about me. This is awesome. We’re doing great. 

“So him being a great teammate and him being one of our best workers and also one of our best guys really ramps everybody else’s game up. I’m not worried about Khalil and neither is he.” 

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Contract decisions coming for Bears defense as questions hang over LB Danny Trevathan

Contract decisions coming for Bears defense as questions hang over LB Danny Trevathan

As 2018 came to its bumpy playoff-loss ending, the Bears could look toward the coming offseason without major crisis decisions looming for what was then an elite defense. They’d prepared contingencies for possible departures of safety Adrian Amos and nickel back Bryce Callahan.

This offseason they will have further-reaching calls to make, beginning at inside linebacker where two of their top three players are coming out of a contract: Danny Trevathan, also off an elbow injury suffered against Detroit, and Nick Kwiatkoski, coming off a second defense-leading performance in a backup role.

The Bears made a decision earlier this year to keep Nick Kwiatkoski for the final year of his rookie contract. The former college teammate of wide receiver Kevin White had played his way under the NFL’s “Proven Performance Escalator” from $720,000 up to a fourth-year salary $2.025 million, a not-insignificant tab for a reserve linebacker on a defense fortified with major dollars invested on the line (Eddie Goldman, Akiem Hicks), at linebacker (Khalil Mack, Trevathan) and cornerback (Prince Amukamara, Kyle Fuller), with decisions pending at both safety spots.

Possibly before this season is done, the Bears could secure Kwiatkoski with another deal, particularly after Kwiatkoski has stepped in and keyed the defense in place of Roquan Smith (Minnesota) and on Sunday when Trevathan went down with a severe elbow injury.

“Right now honestly I’m not thinking about it because there’s a lot of football to play and it’ll take care of itself,” he told NBC Sports Chicago last week. “For me, I feel like whatever happens, happens.”

What has happened is that twice Kwiatkoski, until now a four-phase leader on special teams, has helped the Bears make their decision. Against the Lions, Kwiatkoski’s third-quarter interception, the first of his career, set up the Bears’ third, final and ultimately deciding touchdown.

“Ryan [Pace, GM] and his personnel guys, they created this depth chart throughout our team where when guys go down you're able to have guys step up,” said coach Matt Nagy. “Kwit has done that, and that's what it's all about.”

Kwiatkoski’s is not the only critical depth-chart decision the Bears have upcoming for their defense.

Besides calls like whether Amukamara is playing at a level commensurate with a $9 million base, or whether to go longer-term on a deal for safety HaHa Clinton-Dix. Defensive lineman Roy Robertson-Harris will be a restricted free agent. They picked up Leonard Floyd’s fifth-year option but now need to assess whether he is worth either $13.2 million this year or a long-term deal.

And defensive lineman Nick Williams, leading the Bears with six sacks, is going to be worth more than the $895,000 they landed him for this year.

But the Trevathan injury, besides presenting player and team with a difficult decision on injured reserve, also adds a complicating factor in determining where the quarterback of the defense falls among their priorities. His four-year deal, with $15.5 million guaranteed, averaged $7 million per season, with base salaries of $5.8 million in the last two.

There is zero question where the former Denver Bronco wants to finish his career.

“This city’s been nothing but good to me,” Trevathan said. “It’s all I think about, all I want to be. Chicago is a linebacker’s dream. It’ll take care of itself, I’m sure.

“Everybody has a role. I just wanted to do my job and be the best ‘Danny Trevathan’ I can be, and the best Bear I can be. That’s all I can do. My Mom always told me that things would take care of themselves if you work your tail off.”

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Akiem Hicks talks patience and his friendship with Nick Williams

Akiem Hicks talks patience and his friendship with Nick Williams

The Bears have been playing without Akiem Hicks since Week 4 when Hicks was placed on injured reserve after dislocating his elbow during the Bears trip across the pond to the play the Oakland Raiders. If that Week 4 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings feels like a long time ago, it’s because it has been, and the Bears have been feeling Hicks’ absence.

Hicks spoke at an event at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago this week about his time on IR and when he thinks he’ll be back on the field.

“I try not to make too many projections,” Hicks said. “I have no projections, I just want to be healthy and contribute to this football team.”

When asked about what he missed most while being on IR, Hicks kept his answer simple.

“Just being with the boys,” he said. “It’s a different feeling Saturday night at the hotel when everybody is getting prepared and locking in for the game and you’re sitting there spectating. As much as you try to involve yourself, giving them advice and pushing them in the right direction, the true moment, the battle, the competition you’re going to miss. You just have to accept that.”

“One thing that has improved on my time away is patience, I understand that it was my moment and I have to be comfortable with this time away.”

Hicks was asked about Nick Williams, who has been filling in for him at defensive end, with Hicks having nothing but kind words to say.

“Just a stud,” Hicks said. “He’s shown that he can be a dominant defensive tackle.”

Hicks certainly isn’t wrong. Nick Williams is currently leading the Bears in sacks, with six sacks to his name this season. Hicks also touched on the long-standing friendship he and Williams have shared over their two years as Bears.

 “Myself and Nick Williams have a long relationship over these past two years,” Hicks said. “It feels like we’ve been friends forever. He was very supportive of me throughout his time here. It’s unfortunate that I’m on IR, but it’s a great opportunity to be supportive of him as well.”

“If there was anybody who was going to come up for me and play the time that I’ve missed, I’m glad it was Nick,” Hicks said. “I challenge you to pick somebody in the crowd more excited than me when he makes a play.” 

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