Colleague John “Moon” Mullin frequently references Richard Dent’s “rule of three,” as in: Every good defense needs to have three good pass rushers.
For Dent’s 1985 Bears, that was him, Dan Hampton and Steve McMichael (Dent and Hampton went on to become Hall of Famers). And as Dent sees it, the current Bears have something similar.
“When you look at it, (Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd) and then you got (Akiem) Hicks in the middle, you can’t double everybody,” Dent said this weekend at the Bears100 Celebration in Rosemont. “That’s just like us. To me, this team looks just like us in ’84, ’85 when we really started to jell to be the best we could be competing with one another.”
Mack, Hicks and Floyd combined for 24 sacks in 2018, and add Roquan Smith to that bunch and the Bears’ top four sack-getters had nearly as many sacks as the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots (30). As a team, the Bears finished third in the NFL last year with 50 sacks.
Dent, though, had a few words of caution for Mack: He’s getting to the point in his career where he can’t keep doing the exact same things he’s done so far, which has resulted in 53 sacks and three All-Pro appearances in five years.
“There’s a lot of film out there,” Dent said. “So the point of it now is, people see things and this is where you have to judge and bring another wrinkle in your game. Because father time’s going to catch up. And when father time catches up, you have to have another wrinkle. And that wrinkle is going to have to take place between four and six years. If not, you’re doing the same things, people get it.”
That’s an interesting perspective coming from someone who averaged 14 sacks per season from 1984-1988 (his age 24 through 28 seasons), then averaged 10 1/2 sacks over his next five years (1989-1993, running through age 33). That production still got him into the Hall of Fame, of course, and the Bears surely would be pleased if Mack — whose contract runs through his age-33 season — averaged double-digit sacks for the duration of the largest deal for a defensive player in NFL history.
Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary alluded to some more challenges for Mack coming down the road, too.
“As we go forward, it’s going to get tougher, and it’ll be interesting to see how he overcomes some of those obstacles and how teams try to set him up,” Singletary said.
Still, when asked which current player they liked watching, just about every Hall of Famer or Bears legend at last weekend’s Bears100 Celebration said Mack.
“Are you kidding? No. 52,” Hall of Fame linebacker Dick Butkus said only a few days after awarding the Pro Butkus Award to Mack at Halas Hall (Butkus also said he likes watching Roquan Smith, who won the collegiate Butkus Award while at Georgia).
“How can you not say Mack?” Super Bowl-winning safety Gary Fencik said.
But Dent’s perspective on Mack is particularly prescient, coming from one of the best pass rushers the franchise has ever seen.
“He’s got leverage,” Dent said. “And he’s strong, he’s stronger than what you probably think. … I look at his size and physique and he looks like a natural old country strong boy that doesn’t really life any weights but naturally has the strength. But what I see is how he use the one-stab with his right hand. Again on the right side, it’s a little difficult, it’s different. The point of it is, I don’t know why they flip him so much, I think he’s better on the left and I think Floyd is better on the right and let it go. And if they’re going to double you then double you.”