Pernell McPhee starts to practice with the Bears

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Pernell McPhee started the season on the PUP list. (AP)

Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee is officially on the path to get back.

McPhee, who underwent surgery on his left knee in February, practiced for the first time this year Friday at Halas Hall.

It was the first day McPhee was eligible to practice since he started the season on the physically unable-to-perform list.

The Bears now have 21 days to decide whether to activate him from the PUP list. If they don’t, McPhee will not play this season. If he’s ready, the earliest McPhee can play for the Bears is Thursday night against the Packers.

“Obviously, he was excited,” coach John Fox said. “It was good to see a smile on his face. It was the first time he’s got a chance to go out there and actually practice with the team and go through some drills. He primarily did scout team work since he can’t play this Sunday. But I think, all in all, it was a positive day for him.”

The Bears will be very cautious with McPhee, who was signed to a five-year, $38.75 million contract last year. He’s still considered a valuable player for the future. Despite being the PUP list, McPhee was voted a captain for the second consecutive season by his teammates.

“I had a successful surgery, and it’s healed now, and I’ve got the opportunity to play football, and that’s the only thing that matters,” McPhee said. “Listen, I’m blessed I get the opportunity to go out there and play football again.

“Y’all just wait on it. You’ll see. That’s the only thing that matters. I’m healthy.”

Fox definitely made seem as if McPhee would return at some point.

“We’re going to have to be smart on how we manage his reps, both on the practice field in preparation as well as in games,” Fox said. “I think we’re just kind of starting that procedure now. It’s been a while. I think his surgery was like 39 weeks ago or something of that nature, so it’s been a while. We’ll definitely be cautious moving forward.”

But it’s apparent that McPhee is dealing with an issue that he has to be attentive of individually beyond this season. It’s why there is a focus on his weight. The Bears want to decrease the stress on his knee.

McPhee’s current situation also raises the question whether he should have been shutdown at some point late last season. The Bears lost four of their last five games, and McPhee didn’t undergo surgery until February.

McPhee looked like a homerun signing for general manager Ryan Pace in the early going last season. He was in the middle of a breakout campaign before his knee became too problematic. He missed two games because of it.

Despite his injury, McPhee still made a dramatic impact on the defense. He finished with six sacks, 25 pressures, 10 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and an interception.

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