By Chris Emma—
(CBS) Never shy with his words, Bears linebacker Pernell McPhee has been oddly delicate with what he’s saying about the looming game against the Ravens on Sunday.
In Baltimore, McPhee will face the team that “raised” him as a player but one that declined to retain him as a free agent in 2015. He’s grateful to a mentor like linebacker Terrell Suggs and for the opportunity from coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome. In fact, all McPhee had for the Ravens this week was praise.
That was a departure from normal. McPhee is the same player who still holds a grudge against Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers for something he said two years ago.
With that in mind, teammate Akiem Hicks knows better.
“Any time you go against your former team, you want to prove a point,” Hicks said of McPhee. “He hasn’t made too big of a deal out of it. He hasn’t been hoo-rahing about it. But I’m sure, just as anybody else that would be going into that situation, you want to go out there and put on a show.”
The Bears signed McPhee to a five-year deal in 2015, the first major free agent signing for general manager Ryan Pace. He saw a player in Baltimore’s rotation at outside linebacker who could bring an impact to Chicago’s defense. To this point, McPhee has brought mixed results, in part due to injuries to both knees.
McPhee chance to prove himself likely won’t be as long as he’d like Sunday. He has been limited in reps this season after a cleanup in his left knee in late July. In Monday’s game against the Vikings, he played 45 snaps, marking the most he has played in 2017.
The Bears will be counting on McPhee more than before after losing Willie Young to injured reserve with a triceps injury. But defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Thursday he’d “like to not have to play him too much” moving forward, meaning reserves Sam Acho and Isaiah Irving will also have to take snaps to keep McPhee fresh.
McPhee would love to be a three-down player on defense, and one could only presume that inner fire is burning even stronger against the Ravens.
Right? McPhee had a unique comparison.
“Would you feel some type of way if you get married and your wife leaves you?” McPhee said to a group of reporters. “I don’t know. I mean, it just was a relationship, just like you’ve got a girlfriend. They leave you sometimes.
“If your girlfriend or your wife leaves you, that’ll hurt, right? OK. That answers that question.”
McPhee is the emotional leader of a Bears defense still seeking an identity in Year 3 with Fangio. Injuries and mixed personnel have of course taken a great toll on the unit, and that includes McPhee. He missed seven games a year ago and was limited due to injuries in 2015, his first year in Chicago.
After returning from the knee procedure, McPhee has remained healthy and posted a pair of sacks in five games with the Bears, but that has come with a snap count to this point. Meanwhile, the defense has just three takeaways this season and could use that force rushing off the edge.
The Bears would love to see McPhee prove a point to the Ravens – Sunday and moving forward.
Injury report: The Bears on Friday ruled out receiver Markus Wheaton (groin) and linebacker John Timu (knee) for Sunday’s game in Baltimore, while center Hroniss Grasu (hand) and linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski (chest) are both questionable to play. Guard Kyle Long (ankle) and cornerback Marcus Cooper (back) have been cleared to play.