On the night that the Machete nickname was born (don't worry, KVII, I didn't call you Machete, just referenced it), Barking Carnival's Sailor Ripley and I were having a conversation on Twitter that began with a discussion of Texas Longhorns junior defensive back Adrian Phillips. The buzz phrase was Swiss Army Knife. Not one of those weenie ones either -- one of those big, legit ones.
Just call him SAK? I dunno. Point is, kid can stuff the stat sheet -- 43 tackles, four tackles for loss, one sack, two interceptions, five pass breakups, three pressures, three caused fumbles and one fumble recovery last season, despite the shoulder injury that eventually required surgery and kept him out of spring practice.
He's back, healthy as ever and ready for a big-time season. He doesn't get the type of attention bestowed upon his backfield teammates like Carrington Byndom, Kenny Vaccaro, and Quandre Diggs, but he is the guy who is going to be asked to handle a lot of roles, including the centerfield safety role vacated by Blake Gideon.
How good is Philips going to be this season? Good enough for PB to select him with his second pick in the My Guys draft earlier this week:
Phillips has had some trouble staying healthy (which has never stopped me from picking a player in this post before), which seems to me part of the reason that he doesn't generate as much excited interest among UT fans as he otherwise might. I'm a fan of Phillips' game because he's versatile and physical, with the keen football instincts that just about every quality defensive backs must possess. The versatility and physicality intersect in Phillips play in support of rush defense, where he takes good angles to ball carriers and delivers hard, disruptive blows that finish plays and have a chance to pop the ball loose. Phillips has greater room to grow as a defensive back in coverage, but it's here that I think that moving up the learning curve is a matter of experience, not ability, and expect that if healthy for all of 2012, Phillips will prove to be at least a solid asset in coverage, and I think he has potential to be a great deal better than that. I've already seen the talent, instincts, and tools; now I expect to see it all come together in a breakout season that will surprise many fans.
Instincts, for sure. Philips was one of those jack-of-all-trades players in high school, playing some quarterback, wide receiver, safety, returning kicks and punts. He was probably also the water boy and helped the equipment managers out when they got behind. Yeah, that versatile. Also, he threw the shot put for Garland. Baller.
He's also a Texas Scholar who plays the piano and loves watching Boondocks. Even more baller.
Baller enough to get some baller love from another baller -- defensive backs coach Duane Akina, who pretty much gushed about Phillips on Tuesday:
Over the last 30 years you have had a lot of unique players and you have a lot of guys that mentally are maybe able to play six positions and at times are able to play seven depending who you have in there. You will find that there are guys that can play the position mentally but physically they can't. And then you get guys that can play all seven physically but mentally they cannot handle all the different job descriptions. What Adrian gives you is that he can play both mentally and physically.
So it's not just physical versatility that Phillips brings to the table that allows him to switch easily between multiple positions in the secondary -- it's being able to understand the requirements of each of those positions.
In fact, Phillips doesn't just have the ability to switch between multiple positions in the secondary, he can play six different positions:
That is a real unique talent and a lot of people don't understand how big that is. He can go out there and play boundary corner, field corner, nickel, dime, field safety, and boundary safety. Those are all different job descriptions within the defense, and those guys are very hard to find. So not only can you line up and cover a fleet receiver, you can get down in the box and be physical, and you could make all the adjustments. In this conference you need to because we don't have a lot of two backs back there with a tight end and two receivers. You will see everything from four to a side to five. You got to have some real intellectual players back there.
Like a Texas Scholar who can play the piano.
He can also blitz, as evidenced in the Holiday Bowl when he had a sack, a pressure, and a tackle for loss. On the sack, he attacked the football like a defensive end and forced a fumble that was recovered by Reggie Wilson. Heck, when Texas couldn't field a punt in 2010, it was Phillips they put back there and he fair caught damn near everything, but catch them he did.
Not sold yet? Go watch his highlights from last season again:
Adrian Phillips 2011 Sophomore Highlights (via godzillatron24)
Don't sleep on the kid, yo. He's hungry and about to eat.