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Bears outside linebacker Pernell McPhee had four sacks in nine games last season, including two sacks of the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers in Week 15 at Soldier Field. (AP)

Pernell McPhee keeping the faith, but Bears might need more than that

SHARE Pernell McPhee keeping the faith, but Bears might need more than that
SHARE Pernell McPhee keeping the faith, but Bears might need more than that

Always in good spirits but with little to show for his optimism after two seasons in Chicago, outside linebacker Pernell McPhee represents everything that’s right and wrong with the Bears.

As general manager Ryan Pace’s initial free-agent splash in 2015, McPhee has shown signs that he can be a difference-maker after coming into the league as an effective complementary player with the Baltimore Ravens. At 28, he should be in the prime of his career. As an outside linebacker, he’s in a position to wreak the ultimate havoc under coordinator Vic Fangio, who has a history of success with 3-4 linebackers.

But like too many other key Bears — Kyle Long, Danny Trevathan and Kevin White among them — McPhee enters the 2017 season as an X-factor when he should be a sure thing. We still don’t know whether he can get healthy and stay healthy. We still don’t know whether he’ll be a consistent playmaker instead of an intermittent one. And we still don’t know whether McPhee can be the leader he is purported to be.

There’s no doubt McPhee has the respect of his teammates, who voted him a captain before he had played a game for the Bears. And in Pace’s postseason news conference in January, he was resolute that McPhee was ‘‘worth the investment’’ after two uneven seasons, emphasizing the leadership factor.

‘‘He’s one of the top leaders on this team, and people follow his attitude and his physicality,’’ Pace said.

That might be true, but the evidence that McPhee inspires his teammates to overachieve is scant. So the time has come for McPhee to live up to expectations on several fronts.

‘‘What do I want to prove this year?’’ McPhee said, repeating the question after a practice during organized team activities Tuesday at Halas Hall. ‘‘I don’t want to prove anything. The only thing on my mind is keeping my faith with God and staying healthy. Everything else is going to prove itself because you know I can play.’’

We know he can play; what we don’t know is whether McPhee will be healthy and stay healthy.

After having arthroscopic surgery on his left knee following the 2015 season, McPhee was hoping to be ready for training camp last season. Instead, he ended up on the physically unable-to-perform list and missed the first six games of the season. He had four sacks in nine games before missing the season finale against the Vikings with a shoulder injury.

Now he’s ready to go.

‘‘I still feel great,’’ McPhee said. ‘‘I’m moving around pretty good, as I watch myself on film. I feel lighter than I was [in April]. So I’m still blessed, still feeling great.’’

McPhee often talks a great game, but he makes no promises when it comes to his health. He hopes to be 100 percent for the season opener Sept. 10 against the Atlanta Falcons at Soldier Field, but he leaves that to God.

‘‘Keeping all my faith in God and knowing he’s going to have me ready when the season comes and he’s going to take me through this journey that I’m on,’’ McPhee said. ‘‘I’m just going to let him take me through this journey and try and control the things that I can control, which are taking care of my body and trying to put the right things in my body.’’

Like everything else about McPhee, that’s not as reassuring as it sounds. With all due respect,

we still will have to see it to believe it.

Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

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