When taking over for a 4 year starting safety, expectations are high. When that 4 year starter was often the subject of fan ire, and the replacement has all the qualities to cover the 4 year player's weaknesses, then expectations are that much higher. Throw in the fact that this all took place at DBU, and you have the definition of sky-high expectations. It's exactly the environment Adrian Phillips found himself in during the 2012 season, and the environment he struggled in.
Adrian Phillips was highly rated athlete out of Garland in the 2010 recruiting class. The prototype of Duane Akina DB recruiting, Phillips was a do-it-all player for Garland that Akina could mold however he saw fit. As a freshman in 2010, playing behind a ton of secondary depth, Phillips found ways to contribute. Notably, he became the team's "stay as far away from the punt as possible" punt return specialist, called upon after the numerous failures of Aaron Williams and Curtis Brown at the position.
Heading into his sophomore year in 2011, Phillips figured into the cornerback battle with fellow sophomore Carrington Byndom and early enrollee Quandre Diggs. With Byndom asserting himself as a presence early on, and Diggs quickly acclimating to the college game, Phillips became the first defensive back off the bench, filling in at safety when Kenny Vaccaro would slide down to cover the slot receiver. Throughout the year, Phillips was a plug-and-play defender used to fill gaps throughout the year, his versatility allowing him to move all over the field without skipping a beat.
With Blake Gideon graduating, Phillips was in line to assume his starting role and become the athletic deep safety Texas fans had been desiring for years. And the pieces were there to make it an accurate presumption: Phillips was notably more athletic than Gideon, was equally intelligent as a player (given his versatility), and equal the leader Gideon was. Many prognosticators, including myself, figured he'd be an upgrade at the position, despite the fact that he would miss the entirety of the spring and summer, and some of fall camp, recovering from off season shoulder surgery. And when the season came, Phillips was probably the most visible of Texas's failures on defense.
With Manny Diaz deploying MOFC coverages, where Phillips would be the deep safety responsible for anything over the middle of the field, Phillips was often tasked with cleaning up the failures in front of him and was unable to do so. He missed his fair share of open field tackles, most obviously the embarrassing dump trucking at the hands of Trey Milliard in Dallas. Additionally, Phillips seemed tentative for the first time in his career, likely a function of the myriad tasks he was charged with throughout the season. His 2012 season should serve as a warning that, just because a player can do it all, doesn't mean the player should do it all. Phillips played deep safety, nickel corner, linebacker, and blitzer on a routine basis. With no true identity on defense, Phillips was tasked with being a glue guy for a system that needed more than glue.
Adrian Phillips is #1 on this list not just because I think he's a great talent that can, and should, rebound from a tough 2012, but because I think his rebounding is most critical to the defense's success this season. He's a tremendous leader, proven by the fact that he was selected to represent the team at Big 12 Media Days. He's an incredibly versatile player, meaning he can do what the team needs when it is needed. The defensive line games should be reigned in for 2013. The linebackers have another year under their belts and, hopefully, a healthy Jordan Hicks. If the secondary can be given a cohesive, base scheme to find comfort in, the Phillips will be the player responsible for pulling it all together. If he rises to the occasion, the defense should find itself coming back to prominence. Should he falter, then they're left with on less leader on the field and scrambling for lesser talented options.
Fortunately, all accounts from spring and summer have said one thing: Adrian Phillips is back.
Previously on Contract Year: