Khalil Mack: From afterthought to semiannual menace for Packers

Young on how Rodgers will handle Khalil Mack (0:54)

Steve Young sheds light on how Aaron Rodgers will approach Sunday's matchup against Khalil Mack and the Bears. (0:54)

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It was early Wednesday morning, as players trickled into Lambeau Field to start preparations for Sunday’s regular-season opener against the Chicago Bears, when Lane Taylor powered up his iPad and pulled up some Oakland Raiders video cut-ups.

Taylor, the Green Bay Packers' starting left guard, already had gone through a film study of the Bears, but, of course, none of that included Khalil Mack, Chicago’s newest pass-rusher.

After Taylor watched and rewatched the clips that included Mack’s only game against the Packers, a 2015 meeting in Oakland, he sought out right tackle Bryan Bulaga. For it’s Bulaga who likely will square off against Mack the most on Sunday night.

"I went to show Bryan, and he had already seen the clip," Taylor said. "So you can tell he’s already dialed in."

In one stunning trade and signing on Saturday morning, Mack went from an afterthought player -- one the Packers would play every four years (next up, 2019) -- to a menace they must now deal with on a semiannual basis.

No wonder Packers receiver Randall Cobb had such an exasperated reaction when he found out the Bears traded for Mack.

"I was laying in bed, scrolling through Twitter like, ‘Dang, man. Gotta see him twice a year now,’" Cobb said.

And Cobb doesn’t even have to block him.

Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst made a run at Mack, but the Raiders valued the package of draft picks the Bears put together more. The breaking point might have been that the Raiders believed the Bears, as a rebuilding team, might pick higher than the Packers. And there was the financial impact of it. Almost immediately after the trade, the Bears made Mack the highest-paid defensive player in the league at $23.5 million per year. That came just days after the Packers made Aaron Rodgers the highest-paid player in the league ($33.5 million).

"Everybody loves the matchup of the highest-paid player on offense and defense to add to the Chicago-Green Bay rivalry and everything that goes along with that," Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said. "It makes for good TV. So I’m sure it’ll die down after this week. You’d have to ask the offense how they feel about it, but it’s good for business."

Bulaga hardly seemed fazed by it.

In fact, Taylor said his teammate thrives on this kind of matchup. To hear Taylor tell it, there was a bounce in Bulaga’s step this week and not just because it will be his first game since he tore the ACL in his right knee 10 months ago (Bulaga was on the field for just 12 plays in the preseason -- all of them in the preseason finale).

"You can tell he’s already dialed in," Taylor said.

When asked if he prefers this kind of matchup to one against an easy mark, Bulaga said: "I mean, there's not too many of those guys in the NFL. I think those types of guys may get weeded out. So I think every week is a different challenge, is a different player. And this week it happens to be this front with the addition of Khalil Mack. It's a good group overall."

In their only previous meeting, Mack beat Bulaga with a spin move and sacked Rodgers during the first quarter of a 2015 game in Oakland -- a game the Packers won 30-20. Officially, Mack’s only other stat in that game was a shared tackle on a 7-yard pass to Davante Adams.

"I remember the sack," Bulaga said. "He made an athletic-as-hell play, kind of spinning out of it."

Gone are the days when teams lined up their best pass-rusher on the quarterback’s blindside. Mack rushed from the defensive left side on the majority of his snaps in Oakland, meaning he regularly faced right tackles. While left tackle is still viewed as the premier offensive line position on teams with a right-handed quarterback, Bulaga’s skill set doesn’t vary significantly from Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari, a two-time second-team All-Pro selection.

"When he’s healthy, he’s the best right tackle in the league," Taylor said. "He just has good strength but also good feet to go with it. I think that’s what separates him from others. To be able to have good power but at the same time not just be a slug and be able to handle quick guys.

"A lot of teams will try to get their best [pass-rusher] on the slower, heavy-footed, power right tackles."

But that’s not Bulaga.

"No, he’s kind of the anomaly of right tackles," Taylor said.

And Mack is the elite of pass-rushing linebackers. In four years, he has 40.5 sacks, including 37.5 in the past three seasons.

"I’m not going to say the Bears didn’t have any before," Bakhtiari said. "But now they have someone you really have to respect -- someone you can’t just look at once every four years."