A flurry of free agent signings and an active draft weekend has made roster turnover a common theme of the Chicago Bears’ offseason. But one position group has remained largely in tact, and that is the Bears’ collection of outside linebackers.
Pernell McPhee and Willie Young are two of the Bears’ more experienced players at the position, and both held court with the media after Tuesday’s OTAs at Halas Hall. You can check out highlights from McPhee here, and Young here. But in short, McPhee, in his third year with the Bears, has, eh hem, high hopes for the defense in 2017 (though perhaps that’s an understatement):
“Dominate and destroy every opponent that we face,” McPhee said, not mincing any words. “Just showing the world why they actually got these guys in the room. Me, Leonard (Floyd), Willie (Young), Lamarr (Houston), Sam (Acho) … just, dominating the NFL, that’s my focus. That’s what I want us to do, and I think that’s what we’re going to do.”
That is a very high bar set by a player who is among the most disruptive forces in the league when he has been healthy. Indeed, McPhee earned some high praise for his work as a 3-4 edge rusher in recent years. Pro Football Focus handed out an 87.6 grade in 2014, which was McPhee’s final season with the Baltimore Ravens. And then that premier production carried over into McPhee’s first year with the Bears (87.9 grade in 2015).
His production in each of those seasons put him in the “high quality” category on the site’s grading scale – or one notch below “elite.”
Unfortunately, McPhee took a step back in his second year with the Bears, playing in just nine games (273 total snaps) in a season where he earned a 74.9 grade, which would have ranked 52nd among edge rushers if he had enough snaps to qualify.
McPhee is already a step ahead of where he was at this time last year. He didn’t make his 2016 debut until Week 7 after missing time after undergoing offseason knee surgery. And his health will be a deciding factor in whether or not this defense has the kind of bite that will back up McPhee’s bark.
Then again, maybe McPhee’s goals aren’t all that outrageous:
The @ChicagoBears pass rushing duo came on strong at the end of the 2016 season.
Will they be the NFL's top duo in 2017? pic.twitter.com/W1kyqVSSnu
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 4, 2017
A healthy pair of edge rushers would do wonders for a Bears defense that faces a slew of talented, high-end quarterbacks to start the 2017 season. With McPhee and Floyd ranking as the third and fourth most productive pass-rushing 3-4 outside linebackers during the final five weeks of the season, the Bears have set themselves up nicely with a pair of quality building blocks. Any time you’re sharing a leaderboard with Khalil Mack of the Oakland Raiders and Whitney Mercilus of the Houston Texans, you’re doing something right.
On the other hand, what’s Shea McClellin doing there?
Anyway, Willie Young – who will sometimes line up on the other side from McPhee – has one goal in mind for Floyd in his second season:
“Bring the pain, baby. Bring the pain,” Young said, driving home his point with repetition. “And I have no doubt in my mind that he’s going to bring it. … He had an OK year for 2016, but what I’ve seen from that young man is pretty nice. I’m liking where he’s at right now.”
Floyd finished second on the Bears with seven sacks, and played the 537 snaps – which was also the second most among Bears edge defenders. And yet, Floyd’s 65.1 grade from PFF placed him in the “below average” category and 66th among 109 qualifying players in the position group. Floyd still has room to grow, physically and as a player. If he can maximize his pass rushing skills, it’s not a stretch to imagine him being graded among the best 3-4 pass rushing linebackers in the game.
In fact, his productivity from the right side is among the best in the NFL, according to PFF’s calculations:
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 2, 2017
Between McPhee, Floyd, a recovering Houston, and Young, the group that was pretty much untouched in the offseason still provides a variety of players who possess different skills that – if healthy – can be utilized by defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to create mismatches on the defensive end.
“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 … we got guys who can get after the quarterback,” said Young, who is one of the few players left from the Phil Emery regime. “So 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.”