Bears

Bears brass has these dates circled on NFL offseason calendar

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Bears brass has these dates circled on NFL offseason calendar

On your mark ... set ... your calendars!

Earlier this week, the Bears and the NFL released the official offseason schedule of formal dates and deadlines for their things to do and periods in which some key decisions can and will be made. It will likely be another month before we hear from general manager Ryan Pace and/or head coach John Fox for the first time since Jan. 4, when they addressed the media after the season finale. The team announced they won't be available to reporters at next week's Senior Bowl, but both spoke at last year's Scouting Combine. After that, odds are we won't hear another word until after their first major move in free agency, unless an agreement is reached with one of their 18 current unrestricted free agents. But a combination of Pace, Fox and members of their scouting department are already in Florida looking at the first group of NFL wanna-be's ahead of Saturday's first of back-to-back college all-star games. They'll then move on to Alabama for workouts and practices leading up to the final piece of game action they'll witness from prospective talent. Roster moves can then begin to be made two weeks from Monday.

[MORE BEARS: Bears' options widen with 96 underclassmen entering NFL Draft]

Jan. 23: East-West Shrine Game (St. Petersburg, Fla.)

Jan. 30: Senior Bowl (Mobile, Ala.)

Feb. 8: Waiver process can begin for teams with their current players

Feb. 16 through March 1: Two-week window in which teams can place franchise or transition tags on their own free agents (3 p.m. deadline)

Feb. 23 through 29: Scouting Combine (Indianapolis)

March 6 through 9: 64-hour window begins in which teams can enter into contract negotiations with representatives for free agents; in the Bears' case, they have from 11 p.m. on March 6 through 3 p.m. on March 9

March 9: Free agent signing and trading begins the new league year at 3 p.m.

[SHOP BEARS: Get your Bears gear right here]

April 18: Offseason, off-the-field supervised workouts can begin for teams with returning coaches

April 22: Deadline for designated restricted free agents to sign offer sheets from other teams

April 28 through 30: NFL Draft (Chicago)

July 15: Deadline for free agents with a franchise tag to sign a multi-year extension with their team

The Bears have not yet publicly announced their dates for organized team activities and mandatory veteran minicamp. They normally hold a rookie minicamp the weekend following the draft (which in this case would be May 6 through 8).

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?

Chris Emma, Matt Zahn and Gabe Ramirez join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00- NBC Sports National NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh joins the panel to discuss the Bulls’ terrible defensive performance as well as Zach LaVine’s impressive season debut.

11:35- Khalil Mack is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Patriots. Can the Bears pull off the upset against Tom Brady?

23:50- NBC Sports Boston Patriots insider Tom E. Curran joins Kap to talk about how New England views the Bears and discuss how Matt Nagy’s team can exploit the Patriots’ weaknesses.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below.

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Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack appears in line to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack participated in the Bears’ final practice of the week on Friday, clearing the way for the edge rusher to play Sunday against the New England Patriots. 

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported earlier Friday that the Bears expected Mack, who hasn’t missed a game in his career, to play after suffering an ankle injury early in Week 6’s 31-28 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Mack is officially questionable for Sunday’s game at Soldier Field. 

Mack had little interest in discussing his ankle with the media on Friday, passing on answering questions about his readiness for New England. Coach Matt Nagy, though, said he thought Mack “looked pretty good” during practice on Friday. 

Mack didn’t record a sack against Miami and was held to just one pressure, per Pro Football Focus. The Dolphins’ gameplan was to commit plenty of resources to stopping Mack, but he wasn’t effective even when he had one-on-one pass rushing opportunities as the game went on. 

“He was (affected),” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “I can't put a percentage on it, but he definitely was.”

Having Mack available — even if he’s not full strength — will be critical for the Bears’ defense to have a chance at keeping Tom Brady from lighting up the scoreboard. The key for the Bears will be to generate pressure on the 41-year-old quarterback without blitzing, which is something Fangio’s defense was successful at prior to Sunday’s wacky loss to the Dolphins. 

Brady’s passer rating is 138.4 when he’s blitzed, per Pro Football Focus, while when under pressure his rating is 87.2. That’s still pretty good, but it’s worth noting that all of the six interceptions he’s thrown this year have come when he hasn’t been blitzed. And only one of the eight sacks he’s taken has come when he’s been blitzed. 

The point being: If the Bears feel like they have to start blitzing to generate pressure, they can expect Brady to pick them apart.  

“You could say all of that but ultimately (Brady’s) a gamer,” Mack said. “He’s going to take those hits, and you gotta be able to deliver them but also have coverage over the top. It’s going to be real important for us.” 

The good news for the Bears, perhaps, is that New England’s tackles have struggled at times this year. Left tackle Trent Brown has allowed 17 pressures in 234 pass blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus (about one in every 14 snaps). And starting right tackle Marcus Cannon is out with a concussion, giving way for backup La’Adrian Waddle, who’s allowed eight pressures in 78 pass blocking snaps (about one in every 10). 

So the opportunities will be there for Mack, Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks and the Bears’ pass rush to affect Brady on Sunday.

A bigger injury concern?

While cornerback Prince Amukamara (hamstring) was a full participant in Friday’s practice and will play Sunday, slot corner Bryce Callahan suffered an ankle injury during Thursday’s practice and did not participate Friday. He’s officially questionable for Sunday. 

Callahan “did his ankle,” Nagy said, toward the end of Thursday’s practice, and he felt worse as the day went on. Nagy characterized Callahan’s absence from Friday’s practice as “precautionary.”

Callahan’s availability may be more of a pressing concern than Mack’s, given how well the Patriots’ offense has played since slot receiver Julian Edelman returned from a four-game suspension to begin the season. While his numbers aren’t eye-popping (11 catches on 16 targets, 111 yards, 1 TD), New England’s offense has scored 38 and 43 points in his two games back. 

“Brady has always had a guy in the slot that he’s comfortable with; whether it be (Wes) Welker, (Danny) Amendola or Edelman,” Fangio said. “It’s a big part of their offense. They haven’t missed a beat, but I really think it’s helped their offense and played a big part in them basically averaging 40 points in the last three weeks. I really appreciate and respect how good of a player he is and has been.”

If Callahan isn’t available, Sherrick McManis could be the next man up at slot corner.