To say the Ravens are glad to have Pernell McPhee back would be an understatement. The depth chart lists him as a starting outside linebacker, but what's on paper only begins to describe what McPhee brings to the table.
He's a locker room leader, a mentor for younger teammates and an eight-year veteran respected by players both sides of the ball. After spending his first four NFL seasons with the Ravens (2011-14), McPhee is back after a four-year absence and feeling quite comfortable.
"It's home," McPhee said. "It's where I was birthed in the NFL. This is the culture that I stand by and live by. I get the chance to be myself, to come out and have fun, come out and smile, and come out to just play football and be a Raven."
There are many players vying for snaps at outside linebacker opposite Matthew Judon, including Tim Williams, Tyus Bowser, Shane Ray and third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson. But McPhee's ideal to start due to his experience, pass-rushing skills, and ability to set the edge on running plays.
When the Ravens signed McPhee during free agency, some wondered how much he had left at age 30 after he didn't have a sack last season with the Washington Redskins. However, McPhee did have 13 quarterback hits in 2018, and during the previous three seasons with the Chicago Bears, McPhee had a combined 14 sacks and 75 tackles.
During training camp, McPhee has shown no sign of wearing down, which bodes will for his ability to hold up over a 16-game season.
"He looks good," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "He's physical. He is just what we thought we were going to get. He has practiced every day. He's been out here doing really well. His leadership has been excellent, his physicality. He's Pernell McPhee. That's what we thought we were getting."
McPhee takes his role seriously as a mentor to young players. When he joined the Ravens as a fifth-round pick in 2011, he was schooled by veterans like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, future Hall of Famers who imparted their wisdom on how to succeed in the NFL. Now McPhee is doing the same. After the Ravens lost Terrell Suggs during free agency, McPhee has helped fill a potential leadership void in the linebacker room.
"He's one of our pillars. He's the old-school Raven that we need," Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale said. "He's doing everything we've asked, plus more. … He hasn't lost a step since he left, to me, in my eyes."
McPhee has taken intense interest in third-round draft pick Jaylon Ferguson, who played well in his preseason debut against the Jacksonville Jaguars. There are things about Ferguson that remind McPhee of himself, like his size and raw talent as a pass rusher. McPhee wants to help Ferguson blossom quickly, and the Jaguars game may have been a turning point for Ferguson.
"That's my young buck," McPhee said. "I'm just trying to teach him some of the ropes that I know and try to let him be himself at the same time. He's learning a new level of game, on the next level, and I think he's been doing pretty good."
McPhee doesn't mind being a vocal leader, and he was pressed into service before the preseason opener. As the team huddled at midfield, defensive tackle Brandon Williams was asked to say a few words, but he gave the floor to McPhee.
"'Big Baby' [Williams] kind of surprised me," McPhee said. "He said, 'Phee, you got it.' But I think I did a great job. I learned from one of the greatest guys who ever played this game, Ray Lewis, hearing some of his speeches and hearing him talk. It was great."
McPhee says Williams and other teammates have made it easy for him to reassume a leadership role on defense after being gone for three years. To McPhee, it almost seems like he never left, but in his second stint with the Ravens, he appreciates the opportunity even more.
"As long as you come here with the mindset of being physical and playing fast and being relentless, everything will work out," McPhee said. "That's the culture around here. That's the Raven way, being relentless, playing very physical and playing very fast. I try to preach that every day, and not only preach it, I come out here and do it every day.
"Matt [Matthew Judon] welcomed me with open arms. 'Peanut' [Patrick Onwuasor] welcomed me with open arms. And of course, 'Baby', that's my guy. He was one of my young bucks, too. He definitely welcomed me with open arms. And all the other guys on defense, I just slid right in. I've been enjoying every moment of it."