Trial by fire: How Khalil Mack is helping Bears right tackle Rashaad Coward learn a new position

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Trial by fire: How Khalil Mack is helping Bears right tackle Rashaad Coward learn a new position

We’ve seen what Khalil Mack can do starting right tackles — five sacks, four forced fumbled, 24 pressures, excellent run defense, a pick-six, etc., all in just four games with the Bears. But what it’s like for the guy he goes against in practice during the week at Halas Hall?

“Long days,” Rashaad Coward swiftly quipped. 

Here’s the challenge for the 23-year-old Coward: Learn how to play right tackle against one of, if not the, best edge rushers in the NFL. The Bears flipped Coward from defensive line to offensive line in the spring, identifying his athleticism and frame as traits for offensive line coach Harry Hiestand – who developed four first-round picks at Notre Dame – to mold. His progress was promising from OTAs and minicamp to training camp, and he acquitted himself well enough in five preseason games to make the Bears’ 53-man roster on cut-down day. It didn’t look like he was overmatched by anyone he faced — including Kansas City’s Justin Houston — maybe outside of a few joint practice reps against Denver’s Von Miller. 

That is, until the second practice snap Mack took in a Bears uniform. 

“His second play, (Coward) turned around and gave me the eyes,” coach Matt Nagy said last month, bulging his eyes a bit. 

“I knew he was strong,” Coward said, admitting that it was tough to be relaxed the first week he went against Mack. “The speed caught me off guard.”

Coward, though, has a clear-headed approach to trying to block Mack as he learned the nuances of his new position. He doesn’t get too high on himself if he’s able to stymie him, nor does he get too low if Mack gets past him with his relentless blend of speed, power and technique.  

“Once you go against guys like that, anybody else is like — I don’t want to say a cakewalk, but they’re not going to come as fast or as strong or as quick,” Coward said. 

It’s not just that Coward gets to practice against Mack, though. Mack actively will give Coward coaching points, telling him what he did on a certain move and how, next time, the greenhorn offensive lineman could counter it. 

So when defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said “there’s no prima donna” in Mack, consider that an example. Or, as outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley put it: “I think he understands the impact he can have on so many people in the organization.”

Hiestand, too, is appreciative of Mack’s dialogue with Coward. 

“He gains so much having the opportunity to compete against (Mack),” Hiestand said. “I know they communicate and he talks to Rashaad to help him — hey, you’re giving me this, you’re giving me that. Stay the course, don’t get frustrated. And that really is beneficial.”

The potentially payoff of Coward’s days practicing against Mack may not be realized until 2019. Coward has been inactive for all four of the Bears’ games this year, and it would probably take multiple injuries for him to get on the field in 2018. 

But incumbent right tackle Bobby Massie is a free agent after this season, and if Coward continues to develop the way the Bears want him to, he could be an option — and a cost-effective one at that — to take over as a starter in 2019. If he does, though, these long days facing Mack on the practice fields of Halas Hall will have paid off. 

“We haven’t gone against nobody like that outside of Von Miller,” Coward said. “But it’s good to know he’s on our team.”

Devin Hester one of six specialists to make the NFL 100 All-Time Team


Devin Hester one of six specialists to make the NFL 100 All-Time Team

The NFL 100 All-Time Team just got a serious influx of speed and athleticism. Former Bears' legend and arguably the greatest special teams player of all time, Devin Hester, was named to the squad on Friday.

Hester played with the Bears from 2006 to 2013, racking up an incredible 31 return touchdowns (18 on kick returns, 13 on punt returns). Over his 11 season career, Hester collected a total of 11,028 return yards between kick and punt returns. Hester made four Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams over his career. 

The 2006 No. 57 overall pick out of Miami (FL) dazzled from the start of his NFL career, collecting 1,128 combined punt/kick return yards and 5 touchdowns. 

But just as impressive as his overall effectiveness, was his penchant for rising to the moment. Hester's clutch moments included an 80+ yard punt return for a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals in the infamous, "They are who we thought they were game".

And, of course, all NFL fans remember how Hester became the first player in NFL history to take the opening kickoff of a Super Bowl back to the house for a touchdown. 

Hester was a shoo-in to make the NFL 100 All-Time Team, as he is the NFL's all-time leader in kick and punt return touchdowns but even, so his game was about so much more than just the numbers. 

Devin Hester's unparalleled combination of speed and creativity in the open field delighted NFL fans in a way that perhaps no other player in history did or ever will. 

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Sports Talk Live Podcast: Bears win again as they trounce the Cowboys


Sports Talk Live Podcast: Bears win again as they trounce the Cowboys

Sam Panayotovick and Seth Gruen join Kap on the show.

0:00 - The Bears win again as they trounce the Cowboys. So did Mitch Trubisky save his job or was it just one good game?

12:00 - The Bulls look for their third straight win with the Warriors in town. Plus, Sam gives out his best bets for the weekend as the guys preview the college football conference title games.

17:00 - Comedian Steve Rannazzisi joins Kap to talk about the dumpster fire that is his Knicks. Plus Kap thanks his Giants for helping turn the Bears season around.

Listen to the full podcast here r via the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast