With Willie Young out, Pernell McPhee’s durability key for Bears
Bears outside linebacker Pernell McPhee acknowledged feeling the pain when the Ravens cast him away without making an offer in free agency in 2015. But he’s over it.
‘‘If your girlfriend or your wife leaves you, that’ll hurt, right?’’ McPhee said. ‘‘I don’t know. It was just a relationship, just like you’ve got a girlfriend. They leave you sometimes. It is what it is. I’m just very thankful that [general manager] Ozzie Newsome and coach [John] Harbaugh gave me a chance to become a Raven. That’s the best feeling I got out of it.’’
McPhee will play against his former team Sunday for the first time since signing a five-year, $38.75 million contract with the Bears in 2015. He’s not getting too caught up in the emotion of the moment, but he acknowledged the reality: While the Bears made him wealthy, his four seasons with the Ravens made him what he is today.
‘‘It means a lot,’’ McPhee said. ‘‘I get to go up against the team that raised me, that gave me my identity as a defensive player and as a man in this game.’’
At this stage of his career, though, McPhee has more to prove to the Bears than to the Ravens. He was dogged by injuries in 2015 and 2016 and has had surgery on each of his knees. Since playing 80.6 percent of the defensive snaps in his first eight games with the Bears in 2015, McPhee has played 45 percent of the defensive snaps in 20 games and missed nine altogether.
The wear-and-tear on McPhee’s body bears watching because, with outside linebacker Willie Young likely out for the season with a torn triceps, McPhee is being counted on to fill the gap in the rotation. He played 45 of 70 defensive snaps Monday against the Vikings. The last two times he played that many — 59 against the Chargers in 2015 and 48 against the Redskins last season — he missed the next game.
‘‘[Shoot], I didn’t even know I played 45 snaps,’’ McPhee said. ‘‘I ain’t counting ’em, man. To tell you the truth, I just like to play football. If it’s 45 or 100, I’ve got enough resource to know how to take care of my body.’’
McPhee’s snap total increased from four in the opener against the Falcons to 24 against the Buccaneers, 27 against the Steelers, 34 against the Packers and 45 against the Vikings. His effectiveness has increased, too. He had sacks against the Steelers and Packers and two quarterback hits against the Vikings. But defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is wary about McPhee’s workload.
‘‘It’s a concern,’’ Fangio said. ‘‘We probably loaded him up a little too much [against the Vikings], but that’s the way the game was going. We’d like to not have him play too much. But we’ll see how it goes.’’
The Bears have done a good job of withstanding injuries so far this season. When cornerback Prince Amukamara missed the opener, Kyle Fuller stepped in and played well enough to keep the job. And with linebackers Nick Kwiatkoski and Christian Jones and safety Adrian Amos filling in, the Bears’ depth is better than it was last season.
‘‘It is right now,’’ Fangio said. ‘‘When you’re playing with people you’ve signed off the street, that weren’t in training camp with you, that takes it to another level for two reasons. They weren’t with you, so learning everything you like to do [is difficult]. And they’re on the street for a reason many times. So we haven’t gotten to that point yet.’’
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