Pernell McPhee has been keeping score in his head.
When the count isn’t to his liking, the Bears’ newest, most expensive piece admits he questions his new boss, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
In Baltimore, he guessed, he rushed the passer 95 percent of the time.
On maybe 80 percent of the Bears’ plays during offseason practices, the outside linebacker signed for his pass-rush skills said he’s doing just the opposite—dropping into pass coverage.
“Sometimes I wonder, ‘’Why the hell you got me doing this?’” he said Wednesday after the Bears’ sixth Organized Team Activity practice. “And then, when I watched the practice film, it all plays out.
“That’s the good part of the defense. You can’t really scheme this defense, because you don’t know what side is coming.”
Odds are, McPhee will be on the side that rushes in Fangio’s aggressive, unpredictable defense. He knows that.
Even though he claims to have “great feet, great hips” for pass coverage, the Bears didn’t give McPhee a five-year, $38.75 million deal this offseason to do his best Darrelle Revis impression.
Rather, McPhee’s ability to attack the passer from all over the field — outside linebacker, defensive end and inside linebacker — portends a good fit in Fangio’s defense.
“Pernellhas kinda moved around in his career,” Fangio said last month. “But he’s had some experience out there. It’s not as hard as everybody thinks. It’s a slow-growing process. A lot of the things that look hard to them now will eventually be easy. But we gotta work through that.”
McPhee said Fangio’s scheme is, thus far, more unpredictable than the Ravens’ 3-4.
“How he’s got us playing—I can’t tell the secrets—but he’s got us where, you don’t know who’s dropping, you don’t know who’s rushing,” McPhee said, “It’s just different. It’s very creative.”
McPhee, who had 7 ½ sacks last season, knew in Baltimore that six-time Pro Bowler Terrell Suggs would rush the passer, and that fellow outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw would drop into coverage.
A similar comfort — though, perhaps, not the same predictability —will come with repetition alongside his new Bears’ teammates. Outside linebackers coach Clint Hurtt is teaching responsibilities, McPhee said, by breaking the scheme into small pieces.
“We’re doing a great job going over it as a defense and letting us learn this defense, slowly, day by day,” McPhee said.
Learning his teammates takes longer.
“When you’ve been around some guys for four years, you kinda know everybody’s attitude. You know their personality. You know their character,” he said. “Coming to a new team, you’ve got to try to feel things out. You’ve got to try to see who the leader is, who’s not. You’ve got to try to figure out the guys you can sit down and talk to who’s willing to learn the game.”
In seeking them out, McPhee is trying to become a steadying presence on the Bears’ rebuilding defense. After practice, he reminds young players to jump in the cold tub to preserve their bodies, and helps them with their playbooks. Other times, he’ll ask others, “What do y’all see that I don’t see?”
It’s only June, but McPhee thinks he can become a veteran leader.
“It’s all a team thing right now,” he said. “But as far as getting them going and rolling, I think I can be that guy. But we’re going to let it play out like it plays out.”
As for his on-field responsibilities, McPhee hopes — and suspects — he’ll rush the passer more than he has been in practice.
“But I’m here to fit in,” he said. “Whatever coach needs me to do — go out at tight end, go out at receiver, drop in the flat, rush — I’m here.”