Not even Pernell McPhee was going to get too carried away Friday.
Thankful to be practicing again for the first time since last season, the Bears outside linebacker was making no promises as to when he would play in a game. The Bears have a 21-day window to activate McPhee, who is on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list after undergoing knee surgery in January. His first possible game would be against the Packers next Thursday at Lambeau Field.
Is it realistic he’ll play against the Packers?
“You’ll see,” McPhee said.
Is it fair to say you will play at some point this season?
“You’ll see,” he repeated. “Listen — I’m blessed I get the opportunity to go out there and play football again. Y’all just wait on it. You’ll see. That’s the only thing that matters. I’m healthy.”
The generally upbeat McPhee, voted a defensive captain despite missing the offseason program, training camp and the preseason, literally was just happy to be back Friday. “Feel awesome. I feel great, man. I’m out there practicing, running around with my teammates. That’s the best feeling in the world.”
Bears coach John Fox typically down-played McPhee’s return — not even including McPhee in the daily rundown of the practice status of injured players, even though he had to know McPhee would be a highlight topic.
Asked about McPhee after listing the 17 players who either did not practice or were limited, Fox’s response was curt. “He practiced today,” Fox said.
Pressed on McPhee’s return, Fox did allow that McPhee would like to play Sunday against the Jaguars if he could and added, “I would lobby for that myself.”
The next step is to see how McPhee’s knee responds to the physcial activity of practice. McPhee was the Bears’ best defensive player in the first half of last season, with five sacks in a five-game span from Weeks 3-8. But he tried to play through knee issues in the second half and struggled. He had one sack in the final nine games — he did not play against the Rams or Redskins and generally was ineffective.
Even the offseason knee surgery became problematic. McPhee tested it in training camp but clearly was hobbled by the injury. Fox disdained the notion of sitting McPhee last season to let the knee heal. But the Bears seem more dedicated to a cautious approach this year.
“We’re going to have to be smart on how we manage his reps — both on the practice field in preparation as well as in games,” Fox said. “I think his surgery was like 39 weeks ago … so it’s been awhile. We’ll definitely be cautious moving forward.”
McPhee’s injury has been anything but textbook. Even Friday he said the knee was not the only problem that delayed his return. “It was just some other mechanics,” he said. “Like a car … you’ve got different mechanics you have to oil up, so throughout the process I had to oil up everythign else around, so I know I [am] 100 percent when I come back.”
After an arduous recovery, McPhee is leaning on his faith to finish the job — not only get him back on the field, but keep him there.
“God brought me through it. He just kept giving me strength and keeping my mind strong and that’s the most important thing,” McPhee siad. “I’m blessed. God touched me. God healed me and that’s the only thing that matters. I’m healthy.”