Pernell McPhee broke into a huge grin when asked how he was doing. He feels back at home, returning to the Ravens after leaving four years ago.
"It's crazy, I never thought I'd be back," said McPhee, reflecting on the one-year contract he signed with Baltimore three days earlier. "But I'm here now. It's all in God's plan."
How much the 30-year-old McPhee resembles the 26-year-old McPhee who left the Ravens following the 2014 season will be revealed over the coming weeks and months. As he immediately launches into Organized Team Activities (OTAs) this week, he's at least got his old No. 90 jersey number.
During his first four NFL seasons (2011-14), McPhee was a versatile outside linebacker adept at both pressuring quarterbacks and defending the run. The 2011 fifth-round pick helped the Ravens win a Super Bowl in 2012. He parlayed his best season in 2014 (7 ½ sacks) into a lucrative free agent contract with the Chicago Bears.
Since then, injuries have prevented McPhee from playing to the standard he set early in his career. He had microfracture knee surgery in 2015 and shoulder surgery in 2016 to repair a torn labrum. After 13 ½ sacks in three seasons with Chicago, the Bears released McPhee in 2017, and he spent last year with the Washington Redskins, where he did not register a sack but had 13 quarterback hits.
"The main thing for me is to stay healthy - try to help us make another run," McPhee said. "There's a lot of young talent on this team. I'm trying to find ways to lead them, encourage them, teach them the game."
McPhee says don't measure his impact strictly with statistics. Don't look at what he has done lately and set limits on what he can contribute now.
Feeling healthy and rejuvenated with the Ravens, McPhee is eager to show there's plenty left in his tank, both as a player and a leader. Baltimore needed help for its pass rush after losing Za'Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs in free agency, and it responded by drafting Jaylon Ferguson and signing McPhee and Shane Ray.
McPhee is familiar with Baltimore's system and he knows the standard Head Coach John Harbaugh and his staff set for the team's defense. The Ravens want McPhee to set an example for young pass rushers like Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser, who are being challenged to make bigger contributions this season. But McPhee plans to make his biggest impact on the field.
"When you watch my film, you're always going to see consistency as far as getting to the quarterback, as far as getting hits on the quarterback, and as far as being a run-stopper," McPhee said. "I'm a guy who causes havoc. I've never really been about the statistics. I know that's what the world's about. But if you watch film and you know a football player, when you see me, you'll know I'm a football player."
With 7 ½ sacks last season, Matthew Judon is the Ravens' primary returning pass rusher. But to generate consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks, others will have to step up among the group that includes McPhee, Ray, Williams, Ferguson and Bowser.
As a rookie in 2011, McPhee joined a Baltimore defense that included two Hall of Famers, linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed, along with other dominant players like Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. McPhee hasn't forgotten what those veterans taught him and plans to help set the tone in the locker room.
"I can show them how to be a Raven," McPhee said. "How to play with intensity. How to play fearless. How to work hard.
"I can't fill the leadership role exactly how Sizz (Suggs) filled it. I can only be me. But I can show those guys some of the things that Sizz, Haloti, Ray taught me. Running to the ball. Dominate your man. Really, just being a dog. Doing whatever we need to win."
After McPhee played out his one-year deal with the Redskins last season, he wasn't sure where he would play next. He just knew he had more to give as a player. As the weeks passed this offseason, McPhee prayed for an opportunity. Then the Ravens called. Prayer answered. Now McPhee is determined to earn a roster spot and play an impactful role, proving the Ravens made the right move bringing him back.
"I just told my agent that I wanted to play for a playoff team," McPhee said. "It happened fast, but I'm ready. It starts now at OTAs. As a defense, we need to play as a unit. Who's going to buy in? Who wants to lock in for the next six or seven months, set a goal and reach it? That's why I'm here. I'm back with Baltimore. It's going to be fun."