By Chris Emma

By Chris Emma—

(CBS) More than a month removed from a procedure on his left knee, Bears linebacker Pernell McPhee was deemed by the team’s strength and conditioning coach to be “probably in the best shape he’s ever been in,” as coach John Fox revealed this week.

Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is calling that claim false after forming a plan for McPhee to play on a snap count, which could happen as soon as Sunday if he’s deemed able to play. There’s a “good chance” McPhee plays Sunday, according to Fangio, after he returned from the physically-unable-to-perform list working in a limited fashion.

“I don’t know,” Fangio said. “I heard from our medical training staff that he’s in the best shape of his life, then I hear that he can only play so-and-so many snaps. Take everything with a grain of salt that you hear from those people.”

The 28-year-old McPhee arrived at training camp in July with an irregularity in his left knee, which forced the team to shut him down and opt for a scope. McPhee opened the 2016 season on the PUP list after a procedure conducted on his right knee, which hampered him during in 2015.

McPhee has played in 23 games during his first two seasons with the Bears. He was signed to a five-year deal with the team in 2015 as the first major free agent signing for general manager Ryan Pace.

Since signing McPhee, the Bears drafted Leonard Floyd with the No. 9 overall pick in 2016 and awarded veteran Willie Young a contract extension through 2018. This week, Lamarr Houston was released with an injury settlement after his third knee injury in four seasons with the team.

Pace has ensured depth at outside linebacker as McPhee becomes far from a certainty. The Bears will continue to work cautiously with his health.

“He only knows one speed,” Pace said this week. “We’re mindful of that, how we’re going to manage him. But it’s exciting to see.

“The way his body looks, the way he’s moving around, he’s a very disruptive player that provides a lot of pass rush for us. So it’s just exciting to have him back. But we’ll have a plan in place.”

When healthy, McPhee has proved to be a force. The first games of his Bears career saw a dominating, disruptive pass rusher. He looked to be everything the Bears had hoped.

Given that McPhee has endured two injuries and subsequent procedures on both knees, it’s worth wondering whether he can ever be the same player from 2015.

Asked whether it’s fair to expect McPhee will be the same player again, Fangio didn’t mince words: probably not.

At least the edge with which McPhee plays remains the same.

“If I’m healthy, I’m going to be that player — no matter what,” McPhee said. “I’m going to be dominant. I’m going to be fearless. Just a person, a guy who wants to destroy his opponent.”

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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