By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — Bears linebacker Pernell McPhee speaks with a commanding tone, and his words resonate. When he speaks, you listen.
Confidence isn’t lacking for McPhee, who believes in himself and this Bears defense the same way he did upon signing with the team two years ago.
“You know I can play,” McPhee said Tuesday after practice in OTAs.
But McPhee’s performance hasn’t been convincing like his words. He has played in just 23 games during his first two seasons while batting a knee injury along the way.
After playing through the injury in 2015 — that itself a curious decision by the team as opposed to shutting him down — McPhee was forced to start the 2016 season on the physically-unable-to-perform list. He played in nine games, posting four sacks along the way. Certainly his swagger is beneficial to the young defense.
Words are frequent from McPhee. The belief is strong. But the production must be there, too.
McPhee, 28, was the first major signing for general manager Ryan Pace. He was a productive player in the Ravens’ rotation at outside linebacker, posting 7.5 sacks in 2014. The Bears envisioned him leading the identity of Vic Fangio’s 3-4 defense. He was to be a terror off the edge.
When healthy, McPhee has flashed his dominance. McPhee put Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on notice in 2015, then proclaimed the Bears “slapped him on his ass.”
The Bears wanted disruption and they’ve gotten it from McPhee at times — but not nearly enough.
Finally, the knee is healthy. McPhee is now lighter and more active on his feet. He’s moving well through OTAs and showing comfort. So, what about that potential?
McPhee ranked third among 3-4 outside linebackers in highest pass rush productivity during the final five weeks of 2016, according to Pro Football Focus. Teammate Leonard Floyd was fourth. The two trailed the Raiders’ Khalil Mack and Texans’ Whitney Mercilus, two of the game’s premier edge rushers.
In 2017, McPhee could benefit from good health and also a bolstered defense. The Bears hope the trio of Eddie Goldman, Akiem Hicks and Jaye Howard on the defensive line can flush quarterbacks from the pocket and that a revamped secondary can help create more coverage sacks.
The Bears also have veterans Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, two former defensive ends who have adjusted well to the role of 3-4 outside linebacker, along with the athletic Floyd and powerful McPhee. It’s a unit of versatility, and Fangio plays to its strengths.
“We’ve got a power guy, we’ve got a speed guy, we’ve got a finesse guy, we got a guy who can run through your face,” Young said. “We got guys who can get after the quarterback. At the end of the day, it’s going to be a huge thing that we all come to a common agreement basically and we all continue to work together and stick together. Having McPhee back is going to be huge for us.”
McPhee has a similar mindset.
“Dominate,” McPhee said, setting a firm goal. “Destroy every opponent that we face.”
Teammates will follow McPhee’s lead. He demands “dogs” line up with him on the field, playing with that relentless demeanor. Upon arrival at Halas Hall two years ago, McPhee made it known that he’s “violent” on the field.
McPhee sets the tone for this Bears defense. Now he must turn words into more impact.