Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack rushes the passer against the Jaguars. | AP Photos

A star turn in primetime can do a lot to swing the court of public opinion — even for Mack, the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year. 

On the eve of the 2021 season, Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald is the favorite to win the league’s Defensive Player of the Year Award. Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey, depending on where you look, has the ninth- or 10th-best odds.

Somewhere in between — around No. 7 — sits Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack. And he’s looking to prove a point when he looks across the sideline and sees Donald and Ramsey on Sunday night in Los Angeles.

“Absolutely, absolutely,” the Bears’ star outside linebacker said Friday. “I mean, there’s extra juice every game to feel like that. This game is no different — but it’s also more than that with those two other guys on the other side of the ball as well.

“It’s alway humbling to go into games like this, understanding what’s at stake, and ultimately just trying to win a ballgame.”

A star turn in primetime can do a lot to swing the court of public opinion — even for Mack, the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year.

“it’s doesn’t matter, talking about being an All-Pro in the past or being the Defensive Player of the Year in the past,” Mack said. “It’s about showing [who] I am and playing at that standard that I set for myself.”

That standard is so high that the past two seasons have felt like disappointments. Mack had 8 ½ sacks in 2019 and nine in 2020. Twelve players have more sacks than Mack’s 17 ½ over the past two seasons — including Donald, whose 26 during that period ranks third.

Mack spent more time on the injury report last year than in his previous two years with the team. He hurt his knee, back, ankle and, most notably, his shoulder in Week 13 — but never missed a game last year. The Bears have vowed to be careful with Mack, physically, during game weeks; Mack was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday but a full participant Friday because of a groin injury.

“I’m gonna be out there for my guys and make sure I’m healthy,” Mack said. “Healthy enough to be out there on Sunday.”

This year, though, it’s more complicated than that. Mack wore his mask indoors when meeting with the media Friday, which is required for players who are not vaccinated.

Told he couldn’t just gut out any potential positive coronavirus diagnosis the way he has past injuries, Mack agreed.

“But that’s also another thing where off the field you’ve got to protect yourself and understand when you’re putting yourself in situations where you can possibly catch something like COVID,” he said.

That could become a problem for the Bears, were he ever sick at some point during the season: unvaccinated players must isolate for 10 days if they contract the coronavirus and must sit for five if they’re ruled close contacts of an infected person. Vaccinated players are far less restricted by league rules. Nose tackle Eddie Goldman, who was not vaccinated, already missed 10 days during training camp.

Mack has been trying to motivate his teammates since long before camp. He preached defensive goals to his teammates throughout the offseason, said Nagy, who heard them second-hand.

“He’s not a man of many words,” Nagy said. “But when he says something, he’s one of those guys, that, it totally multiplies and magnifies what he’s saying.”

The Rams have spent all week game-planning around Mack — “Thirty-two teams around the league would love to have him as their elite pass rusher,” offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell — just as the Bears have with Donald.

Mack will let others compare the two —and to handicap the Defensive Player of the Year race.

“That’s something I won’t talk about — I show you,” he said. “I’ll show you better than I can tell you.”

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