An ode to Khalil Mack: Chicago’s and the NFL’s defensive MVP

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This comes as a surprise to some, but the Chicago Bears are currently the team to beat in the NFC North. With a record of 3-1, the Bears are off to their most successful start to a season since 2013, when they secured wins in their first three games against the Bengals, Vikings and Steelers. Through four weeks in 2018, the Bears have already tied the number of wins they had in the entire 2016 season.

Despite what the Bears’ 48-10 win over the Buccaneers last Sunday says about Chicago’s Mitchell Trubisky-led offense, the strong link of the team is widely considered to be the Bears’ defense. And one player in particular who has stolen the defensive spotlight? Khalil Mack.

His signature move? Pursuing opposing quarterbacks moments after the snap and stripping the ball out of the quarterback’s hands as he’s completing the sack.

Mack, who was born in Florida, has settled down all across the country, honing his pass rush skills since high school. He attended college at Buffalo, where he set the all-time NCAA record for forced fumbles.

When the time came for his professional career, Mack was drafted fifth overall by the Oakland Raiders in 2014, where he played until getting traded to the Bears days before the start of this season. Now the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history, Mack is also establishing himself as one of the league’s most dangerous pass rushers.

Since starting with the Bears, Mack has averaged more than one sack per game and has totaled 14 tackles. He even picked off a pass and took the ball 27 yards for a touchdown in his Bears debut against the Packers during Week 1.

Not even a third of the way through the season, Mack has made a serious case for the NFL MVP Award. His energy on the field has infected his teammates and has boosted the performance of the team overall.

Jon Gruden, the Raiders head coach who made the mistake of trading Mack away before Gruden kicked off his second stint in Oakland this year, has been haunted by the loss each week of the season.

“Damn — Khalil Mack had another strip sack? Are you … kidding me?” he was recorded saying to NFL sports writer Michael Silver.

Undervaluing Mack has hardly been a problem for the coaching staff in Chicago. His $141 million, six-year deal to move to the Bears has been worth every penny thus far. WGN’s Adam Hoge quoted Mack joking on Twitter, saying, “I’m trying to get on the phone with my financial advisor to figure out what I can afford.”

Mack’s impressive performance at the start of the season has generated a lot of buzz around the Windy City, as the Chicago faithful are hopeful for North Division and NFC titles in the near future. But before getting ahead of themselves, the Bears need to take things one game at a time, using this bye week to prepare for a number of challenges in October — including the Dolphins and the Patriots. This means that the upcoming subjects of Mack’s strip sacks will be Ryan Tannehill and Tom Brady — a real test of his ability to perform under pressure.

Mack’s humor, energy and tenacity will be difficult to not spot on the field. Just look for the No. 52 jersey, surrounded by teammates who are basically bowing at his feet.

Lucy Schaefer writes for Bear Bytes, the Daily Californian’s sports blog. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @lucyjschaefer.