Khalil Mack cracked a sheepish smile Friday. Caught in the act, there was nothing to do but own it.
So just how tasty was that Rice Krispies treat? The one the Fox telecast showed him demolishing Sunday while he watched his teammates dismantle the Bills?
“I was trying to be real discreet,” Mack said with a laugh. “But they caught me.”
Hey, it’s all good. Rice Krispies sent him a care package this week.
And now Mack can throw discretion out the window, knowing he will be back on center stage against the Lions Sunday at Soldier Field.
Having fully participated in all three practices this week, the Bears All-Pro edge rusher is set to return from the sprained right ankle that kept him out of the last two games and neutralized him in two others.
The question now: How quickly can Mack recapture the form that electrified the Bears immediately upon his arrival in September?
That’s a high bar. He had a strip-sack in each of his first four games to earn NFC defensive player of the month honors. Since then, however, he has been mostly invisible by his standards, save for sideline snack time.
As Mack terrorized opponents and fueled the Bears’ 3-1 start, it was a chore to remember he had been in Vic Fangio’s defensive system for only days and weeks. The pick-six against the Packers in Week 1, the five sacks in four games, the five additional quarterback hits — it all seemed to come so effortlessly.
Now, though, Mack has had two months to study the scheme, albeit without practicing in it much for three of the last four weeks. He returns to the field more comfortable with his responsibilities, although not yet with full command.
“He’s not where he needs to be or where we want him to be,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “But he’s certainly prepared enough.”
While Mack was missing practices in October, he and outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley would stay after the evening meetings at which they reviewed the day’s practice.
They would study the defense together, intent on “building that foundation,” Staley said.
Fangio’s defense includes various packages for outside linebackers in which they line up at different spots in the formation and vary their in-play responsibilities. In the Patriots game, for example, Mack frequently dropped into coverage on his sore ankle.
The variety of positioning and responsibility is more extensive than how the Raiders used Mack.
“The more he gets to play in those packages and gets used to being in different locations, you’re going to be able to see a different confidence level from him in terms of being aggressive and getting the quarterback,” Staley said.