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Lighter and ‘sexier,’ Bears’ Pernell McPhee eyes dominant return

Bears outside linebacker Pernell McPhee won the Ed Block Courage Award. (AP)

When Bears outside linebacker Pernell McPhee got hungry after 7 p.m., he poured himself a glass of water and drank until he felt full.

That was the only way to lose the weight he needed to take pressure off his knees. He said he has lost 25 pounds since the end of 2015 and 10 since January. McPhee was listed at 273 last season.

It used to take him a few seconds to be able to walk when he got out of bed. Now he can get up and run.

“I look more sexier,” he said.

To quote Joe Maddon, now the Bears need him to play sexy.

With needs at quarterback, defensive line, safety and cornerback, they won’t focus on outside linebackers in the draft. Instead, they’ll bet on a sophomore jump from Leonard Floyd and another solid season from veteran Willie Young. But most importantly, they’ll need a bounce-back season from McPhee.

McPhee posted five sacks in his first eight games with the Bears in 2015 before sitting out the ninth game with a knee injury. He has had only five sacks since.

The Bears might never see that McPhee again, but they need him to get close.

The Bears can walk away from him with little penalty, but general manager Ryan Pace has stressed McPhee’s value. That was apparent Tuesday, when McPhee received the Bears’ Ed Block Courage Award at Maryville Academy in Des Plaines.

“People talk about, when you lose somebody like [linebacker Brian] Urlacher, there’s a leadership void,” Bears chairman George McCaskey said. “I think Pernell has done a great job filling that void.

“He’s fiery. He’s talented. We wish he’d been in better health, but he’s working on that, trying to get back ready to help us in 2017.”

McPhee will miss Jay Cutler — “That’s my boy,” he said — but he’s hopeful about new quarterback Mike Glennon. Asked if he hopes the Bears draft a defender, McPhee said the Bears could use more help on both sides of the ball.

A healthy McPhee will help. He started last season on the physically unable-to-perform list after arthroscopic knee surgery in the offseason that Young called career-threatening.

He played nine games before missing the finale with a left shoulder injury that required another offseason surgery.

“I can do just about anything that I did before anything happened,” McPhee said, “but it’s definitely been a process.”

McPhee wouldn’t say whether he’ll be ready for the start of OTAs in May, but he said he’ll benefit from a more normal offseason than last year.

“It’s going to be dangerous because obviously last year wasn’t a great year, and the year before wasn’t one,” he said. “So now hopefully by me losing weight, staying focused, we can turn this thing around.”

Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley.

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com

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