The Chicago Bears were handed a pleasant surprise last week when it was announced that Pernell McPhee was starting the season on the active 53-man roster and not on the physically unable to perform list. Good news continued to roll in when we learned McPhee was in the best shape of his life and things were lining up for him to play in Week 1.
But, apparently, being in the best shape of your life doesn’t go as far as it once did.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio addressed the media on Thursday, and among the topics discussed was McPhee’s availability for the team’s regular season opener against the Atlanta Falcons. The straight-shooting Fangio didn’t pull any punches:
Vic Fangio is the best pic.twitter.com/ShdeuhzbFW
— Adam Hoge (@AdamHoge) September 7, 2017
So if McPhee is healthy enough to play, is expected to suit up, but isn’t going to be the player he was in Baltimore, what will the Bears do about his playing time? By answering that question, Fangio opened a window into what the Bears might possibly do with a player who told The Athletic’s Kevin Fishbain he seeks to be dominant and destroy the competition.
“I don’t know. I heard from our medical and training staff that he’s in the best shape of his life, but then they say he can only play so and so many snaps.”
This sounds like McPhee is about to be a part-time player, at least for the time being. And maybe that’s not a bad thing.
The Bears tried to get more out of McPhee upon his arrival as a free agent in Chicago, bumping his snaps up to 57.6 percent in 2015. Perhaps Fangio and head coach John Fox can put together a plan to scale back his snaps while trying to maximize his production. If they’re interested, they could look to what how the Baltimore Ravens used McPhee before he left as a free agent.
In what was arguably his best season as a pro, McPhee earned an 85.3 grade from Pro Football Focus in 2014. McPhee played in all 16 games and came up with 7.5 sacks, but didn’t make any starts. Further, McPhee played just 517 snaps – or just 47.8 percent of the team’s defensive plays. Picking and choosing spots in which to use McPhee seemed to be Baltimore’s plan all along as he was in on just 28.2 percent of snaps in 2013 and 37.1 percent in 2012.
Clearly, something worked for McPhee and the Ravens defense, so credit their coaches for getting the most out of him while also limiting his snaps, and thus, limiting his exposure and risk to injury. The Bears have quality starters at outside linebacker with Willie Young and Leonard Floyd, so you could say it’s more important that McPhee plays regardless of whether or not he is starting. However, the position isn’t necessarily loaded, as parting ways with Lamarr Houston takes away from the depth at the position.
Ideally, the Bears would employ a plan similar to what the Ravens executed when McPhee was bullying his way into the backfield and pressuring the quarterback. If it happens, it could lead to a full season of health from McPhee and an improved performance from the front seven altogether.