Being able to practice Tuesday at Halas Hall meant everything to outside linebacker Pernell McPhee.
It meant his left knee – the one that underwent surgery in the offseason, required a lengthy rehabilitation and cost him the first six games of this season – held up well against the Green Bay Packers.
It meant that he could continue on his course toward regaining his form from last year when he was one of the Bears’ best players. And it meant life was enjoyable again.
“I [haven’t] played in 10 months, but it felt pretty great,” McPhee said. “It gave us the response that I expected, and it wasn’t really nothing. I actually got the opportunity to go out there [Tuesday] and practice. That was the most fun part about it. I didn’t really miss any days. It wasn’t about if I was [sitting], which would probably be a coach’s decision. I feel pretty great.”
It’s staying that way that’s a priority for the organization and McPhee, who turns 28 in December and is only in the second year of a five-year contract. The guaranteed portions of McPhee’s contract are up after this season, but he remains a vital part of the future. The Bears need him.
Before the Bears broke for a day off on Wednesday, McPhee spoke briefly about his process for the first time. It’s important to be mindful of the long term, though he’s determined to help this season.
McPhee’s diet is important. He is officially listed at 273 pounds, which is only two pounds lighter than he was listed at last season. But he said he’s lost around 22 pounds.
“I’m light as hell right now,” he said, laughing.
And that’s a good thing.
“It helps me with the injury like not putting as much weight and stress on my knee,” McPhee said. “It’s helping me out in my game even more because I’m moving faster.
“The main thing is just to keep the weight down and knowing that I can play on it and play and be effective. That’s the main thing because when I’m heavy, it’s putting more weight and it’s carrying more weight on my knee. That really ain’t a smart thing.”
So, what’s on his menu?
“It’s eating more salads and drinking more water — the basics that help you keep your weight down,” McPhee said. “It’s staying away from that red meat.”
It requires discipline effort on and off the field. There is more to McPhee’s longevity than his diet. He knows his future relies on his own efforts.
“It’s just taking care of my body, watching my weight [and] just making sure I get treatment,” McPhee said.
It also involves being honest with himself. McPhee knows he needs to respect how he’s feeling, that sometimes rest is best.
But, to McPhee, being disciplined also means not being afraid.
“It’s making sure I come to practice with the attitude of not trying to protect myself because you can’t protect yourself in this game,” he said. “You’re either going to go 100 [mph] or you’re not.”
When McPhee watched the film of himself against the Packers – it included only 19 plays as coach John Fox said the team kept him on a “pitch count” – he said he saw ”a lighter and faster” player. But he doesn’t think he’ll be a different one.
“It’s going to take time for me to get back into rhythm and knock this rust off,” McPhee said. “But I kind of felt great out there.”
He makes it sound as if those great feelings will turn into great performances soon.
“With us 1-6, there ain’t no time,” McPhee said. “We got to have a sense of urgency. We got to turn it up a notch.”