BOURBONNAIS — The Bears couldn’t make it through move-in day at Olivet Nazarene University without an injury problem.
By 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, the team had announced that linebacker Pernell McPhee would start the season on the physically unable to perform list. By noon Thursday, coach John Fox was back in familiar waters, trying to explain an injury — and its consequences — on the first day of training camp.
McPhee hadn’t made it through his physical on Wednesday, complaining of knee pain. Fox said team doctors “found a little irregularity” in his right knee, which is not the same knee that caused McPhee to start last year’s training camp on the PUP list.
Fox, as usual, eschewed timelines.
“It could be a day or it could be a week” or even longer before McPhee could return, Fox said. “I hate to get into that hypothetical stuff. We did that a couple years ago, and it kind of bit us.”
In that moment, Fox showed a self-awareness that hasn’t always been on display. At training camp two years ago, his first with the Bears, he continually referred to wide receiver Kevin White as “day-to-day” — until the Bears announced he’d need surgery and was likely out for the season. Some decided, in that moment, that Fox had willingly lied about injuries. It strained his relationships with reporters and some fans before the Bears had even played a preseason game.
With 19 Bears finishing last season on injured reserve, Fox has plenty of practice in answering injury questions. But he hopes he won’t have to as often this year. The Bears were confident they’d dodged some bullets Wednesday when guard Kyle Long (surgery, right ankle), linebacker Danny Trevathan (ruptured patellar tendon, right knee) and tight end Zach Miller (surgery, right foot) all emerged from their physicals ready to practice. They were limited Thursday — but even that is considered a success. Fox has players in different phases of recovery, all with the goal of being healthy for the season opener Sept. 10 against the Atlanta Falcons at Soldier Field.
Cornerback Marcus Cooper is another of these players; he was limited after still feeling the effects of a hamstring problem that began during OTAs.
“This is kind of a silly analogy, but I liken it to going around a NASCAR track,” Fox said when asked about Long, who officially flipped from right guard to left in the moments he was on the field. “You don’t want to go real slow and putz around all the time. You want to get a little faster each lap without wrecking. So that’s kind of the deal we’re on with him.”
McPhee, on the other hand, sputtered before the flag was dropped. He had lost 10 pounds between January and April to take pressure off his knees, bringing his total weight loss to about 25 pounds since the end of 2015.
Trevathan, who trained with McPhee in Pensacola Beach, Florida, this offseason, said McPhee has the right attitude to bounce back.
“He’s a guy, he’s going to push through whatever,” Trevathan said. “If something’s not right with him, he’s going to let you know. He’s going to work to get better. That’s the type of leader he is, the type of person he is. That’s why I came here — because I know what type of team this team is, and the team it can be, with the attitude, and carry it over to the field.”
Making it to the field, though, just got more complicated.
“I think mentally, he’s fine,” Fox said of McPhee, who is still on campus. “He’s still confident. Now it’s just about getting him healthy.”
The Bears had other, minor injury issues Thursday. Nose tackle Eddie Goldman and safety Deon Bush didn’t practice because they became dehydrated and couldn’t finish the conditioning test the night before, Fox said.
Fox sounded surprised by Goldman’s conditioning; he had reported at a relatively svelte 315 pounds.
“I think he’s in really good shape,” Fox said. “I don’t know what climate he’s been training in over the last five weeks.”
Both Goldman and Bush will participate in a light practice Friday that will be closed to the public. The Bears made such schedule changes with a nod toward health; they won’t wear pads more than two days at any point during this year’s camp.
Trevathan, whose recovery is ahead of schedule, said his rehab started with his head.
“Your mind can defeat you,” he said. “As soon as you start having doubts, that’s when you start going backward. That’s not the type of person I am. That’s not the type of person I want to be. That’s not the type of person I want people to be around in this environment.”
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