There was neither an outcry nor anguish and not much regret when the Bears cut outside linebackers Pernell McPhee and Willie Young and did not re-sign Lamarr Houston after last season.
All three had moments of productivity at a key position — McPhee and Young, in particular — but never were consistently productive enough or healthy enough to warrant keeping around.
Young had two sacks in the first four games in 2017 before a triceps injury ended his season. McPhee had four sacks in a five-game stretch in the first half, but his production withered, and he missed three of the last four games with a shoulder injury. Houston had four sacks in five games after re-signing with the Bears. But with a recent injury history — Houston was cut in training camp with a knee injury he suffered in the preseason finale — he was deemed expendable.
Still, their combined absence leaves a void that defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will have to fill in 2018. McPhee, Young and Houston combined for 10 of the Bears’ 18½ sacks from outside linebackers last season. Leonard Floyd had 4½ sacks in 10 games but missed the last six with a sprained knee. Sam Acho had three sacks. Isaiah Irving played sparingly on defense as a rookie after being promoted from the practice squad and missed the last five games with a knee injury.
The key additions are former 49er Aaron Lynch, who was signed in free agency, and Kylie Fitts, a sixth-round pick from Utah.
Floyd has missed much of the offseason program as he recovers from the knee injury, so even he is an X-factor at this point. The 2016 first-round pick has missed 10 of 32 games in his first two seasons because of injury.
“Leonard just started practicing this week where we’re allowing him to do some 7-on-7 drills,” Fangio said when asked about the outside linebacker group Wednesday after the Bears’ OTA (organized team activities) practice. “I expect him to be full-speed and ready to go at training camp.
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“There is a little bit of a question there of depth and depth quality. But we’re confident that [with] the guys we have there, somebody will surface to be the two starters and the couple of backups we need.”
The newcomers, Lynch and Fitts, are intriguing candidates with the potential to be a home run or a swing-and-a-miss. Lynch had six sacks as a rookie under Fangio in 2014 and 6½ sacks in 2015. But injuries and personal issues have derailed his career. Reconnecting with Fangio could invigorate his career.
“It’s been good,’’ Fangio said. ‘‘It hasn’t been perfect by any means. I think he’s in a good spot emotionally, mentally. He’s fired up, ready to take advantage of this opportunity. But he has to be a more disciplined guy play after play after play and not be inconsistent.”
The Bears were sixth in the NFL in sacks per pass play last season. But Fangio knows he has work to do to maintain that pass-rush performance in 2018.
“We hope so; time will tell,” Fangio said. “We think Leonard, when he’s been healthy, has proved to be proficient enough. Lynch, he’s had a checkered career, to say the least, but there has been some [production] throughout his career at times. Hopefully, we can get that to be more consistent. Sam Acho made some improvements last year in that area. We’ll see how Isaiah and these young guys come along.”