A blockbuster deal brought a new wrinkle to the NFL’s oldest rivalry.
The Chicago Bears visit Lambeau Field on Sunday night, just in time for star pass-rusher Khalil Mack to potentially make his debut in the season opener against the Green Bay Packers.
A premier player joins what figures to be an already tough defence. Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks can’t hide his glee.
“When we got him, I was just so excited just to have such a prolific pass-rusher next to me. It’s going to be phenomenal,” Hicks said.
He led the Bears last year with a career-high 8 1/2 sacks. Mack is second in the NFL since 2015 with 36 1/2 sacks. Promising third-year player Leonard Floyd, a 2016 first-round draft pick, will line up at the outside linebacker spot opposite Mack.
This could spell trouble for offensive lines.
“You usually have to game-plan around him, and then when you game-plan around somebody, regardless of what position it is, then there’s an advantage somewhere else,” coach Matt Nagy said. “That gives the advantage to other players on defence, so those guys need to step up when given opportunities.”
The Packers looked into trading for Mack. Now they have to face him.
“Yeah, I was lying in bed scrolling through Twitter like, ‘Dang, man. Gotta see him twice a year now,' ” Packers receiver Randall Cobb said about his reaction to the Bears’ deal for Mack.
The primary responsibility for blocking Mack will fall to veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who will be playing his first game since tearing his right ACL in November. At least Bulaga has had some time on the practice field this preseason, unlike Mack, who held out before being traded by the Oakland Raiders.
He might get some help at times from the Packers’ deep tight end group, reinforced during the off-season with the additions of free agent Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis to join veteran Lance Kendricks.
They’ll be tasked to give enough time to the ultimate equalizer: quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
It just wasn’t clear if Mack would be ready to play this week, although Hicks sure seemed pretty confident that his new teammate would be on the field.
“Well, that’s a really good player in his prime,” Rodgers said about Mack. “They obviously gave up some picks, but it just adds to the rivalry now that we get to see him twice a year.”