Only three things left on Pernell McPhee’s checklist: Get on the field. Stay on the field. And be the player he was in 2015 before getting hurt.
“If it’s the Lord’s will, I will be [that] player,” McPhee said Wednesday. “If I’m healthy, I’m gonna be that player no matter what. I’m gonna be dominant. I’m gonna be fearless. Just a guy who wants to destroy his opponent.”
McPhee’s bold talk doesn’t quite resonate like it did when he arrived in 2015 as the Bears’ top free agent in Ryan Pace’s first season as general manager. But it’s still captivating because of McPhee’s impact as a pass-rushing outside linebacker and his potential if he could just stay healthy.
After two injury-marred seasons that limited him to six sacks in 14 games in 2015 and four sacks in nine games last season, McPhee looks like he’s back and ready to be “violent” again after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to correct “a little irregularity” in his right knee at the start of training camp. He’s lighter. He’s faster. He’s in the best shape of his life, coach John Fox said.
“I feel like I am,” McPhee said. “Especially with my weight [listed at 269 pounds], I feel faster — a lot faster. I don’t feel any pain. That’s the most important thing. Film don’t lie. If I’m out there Sunday or not, you will see. If you watch practice tape, you will see. I feel faster. I’m moving quicker. The main thing is just keep the faith, stay strong and stay healthy.”
During individual and position-group drills open to the media, McPhee in fact looks back to normal after spending training camp and the preseason on the physically unable-to-perform list. He’s not holding anything back. He appears on course to play in the Bears’ season opener Sunday against the Falcons, even if on a limited-snap basis.
Whether McPhee returns this week or next, the challenge for the Bears is finding a way to max out a productive but enigmatic player — a high-motor guy with wear-and-tear issues.
“We’re mindful of that, how we’re going to manage him,” Pace said. “But it’s exciting to see [him back]. The way his body looks, the way he’s moving around — he’s a very disruptive player that provides a lot of pass rush for us.
“So it’s just exciting to have him back. But we’ll have a plan in place. And fortunately we have enough guys there where we can rotate and be smart about how we utilize him.”
That wasn’t the case in 2015, when the Bears had an over-the-hill Jared Allen, Sam Acho and Willie Young plus Lamarr Houston recovering from major surgery with McPhee in the outside linebackers’ room. McPhee played 80.6 percent of the defensive snaps in the first half of the season and 34.7 percent in the second half as he tried to play through the knee injury.
Now they have former emerging pass-rushing star Leonard Floyd and a healthy Young along with Acho at outside linebacker. So the Bears can better afford to use McPhee in only premium pass-rushing situations.
“The older you get, the wiser you get. The wiser you get, the more mature you get,” McPhee said. “I’ve just got to be smart. I’m going to go 100 percent every time, until my body totally breaks down. Just being smart and making the plays that present [themselves] for me. And helping my team win the best way I can.”
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