clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Former Longhorn Adrian Phillips could see large role on Chargers in 2016

After a volatile career at Texas, the undrafted free agent is making noise in the NFL

Miami Dolphins v San Diego Chargers Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Longhorn fans know all too well that one’s Texas football career is not necessarily indicative of NFL success. The legend who dashed for an NCAA championship on 4th and 5 bowed out of the pros after a few fleeting pro years not nearly as rosey as that victory in Pasadena. Meanwhile, the kick returner who tore his ACL in his senior season is now a veteran running back for the Carolina Panthers with a Super Bowl appearance under his belt.

Success isn’t a straight path for any football player, but some peak at the right point. See: former undrafted free agent Adrian Phillips, now getting first team reps as safety for the San Diego Chargers.

Phillips was a captain as a senior on the Longhorns’ 2013 football team, but you may know him better as a scapegoat for Texas’ poor secondary at the mediocre end of the Mack Brown era. The Garland native’s name is littered across various Texas message boards in 2012 and 2013 for all the wrong reasons — the subjects for these forums vary from “Adrian Phillips refuses to tackle” to one vulgar title implying Phillips “can’t see”.

“If you doubt yourself, that’s when problems happen,” Phillips told ESPN in 2013. “Of course, when you hear that criticism it’ll make you mad, but you never want to use that as doubt.”

Still, the critical words surely shook his confidence. As an incoming freshman in 2010, Phillips was declared to have the most “Longhorn spirit” of any recruit, and would reportedly flash the hook ‘em sign to any passing stranger. Three years later, a battle hardened Phillips would have a different tone. During a patch of Longhorn success in 2013 he told fans, “if you weren’t there when we were struggling, we don’t need you now.”

However, it is true that the former ESPNU top 150 recruit never fully lived up to the potential bestowed upon him in Austin. Phillips was an All-Big 12 honorable mention selection, but he also made glaring errors on the field, such as failing to tackle Oklahoma’s full back in this notorious 2012 play.

After a lackluster 2013 season for Texas and Mack Brown’s subsequent firing, Phillips did not hear his name called in the NFL draft and quietly signed a UDFA deal with the San Diego Chargers. In a span of ten days from September 23rd to October 1st of 2014, he was released, resigned, and then released again before signing on to the team’s practice squad on October 7th.

Rather than being discouraged by his frequent movement through the organization, Phillips utilized his time with San Diego by shadowing the team’s star.

Phillips thrived under the tutelage of veteran All-Pro safety Eric Weddle, from shadowing him in the weight room to watching him lead by calling out orders on the field. Weddle was a consensus college All-American and second round draft choice, while Adrian Phillips had an inconsistent career at Texas and was undrafted.

Yet, Phillips knew that hard work was the greatest equalizer, and that he could reach the heights of his teammate and mentor.

“I saw how he carried himself during practice and how he was calling out every single thing the offense was doing,” Phillips said. “It made me feel comfortable because that’s what I used to do at Texas. I instantly wanted to learn everything he knew because that’s the level I want to be at. That’s the caliber of player I want to be.”

Phillips would be released and resigned four more times before finally being promoted to the team’s active roster on October 20th, 2015 after Weddle, who hadn’t missed a game in six years, suffered a groin injury.

The Chargers were in a down year, but for Phillips, it was the perfect opportunity to prove himself — to prove that he can tackle, that he can live up to his potential.

Phillips ended up with 17 tackles, but made his biggest mark in week 17 against the future NFL champions. With his team eliminated from playoff competition, Phillips got the start at safety against the Denver Broncos. In the second quarter down 7-3, the Texas-Ex found a poorly thrown, deflected ball by Brock Osweiler fall right into his hands. He darted for 39 yards, a return far longer than he ever had in his five picks as a Longhorn.

The Chargers would go on to lose 20-27 in what was already destined to be the last game of their season. The interception was completely meaningless, not particularly memorable even if San Diego had gone on to win.

But it was perhaps the beginning of a new chapter in Adrian Phillips’ career.

Phillips showed enough for the Chargers to allow the aging Weddle to walk in the off-season and later join the Baltimore Ravens. For the first time Phillips did not have to worry about being cut multiple times before the season had even started.

Now, according to the San Diego Tribune, “No Charger has more interceptions this offseason than Phillips.” The 24-year old who has been part of 23 Chargers transactions reportedly made huge strides in training camp, intercepting two passes on the final day.

“Once I started understanding how to watch film, I moved a lot less, which, in turn, means that my movements are more efficient. Most people, you might see them running all over the field. One of the main things that our coaches teach is don’t move too much. ‘See a little, see a lot. See a lot, see nothing at all.’ My film has taken off to levels I thought I could never reach,” Phillips said.

Phillips’ path hasn’t been a straight one, but he’s put himself in the proper position on and off the field to finally make an NFL impact. Phillips endured the rough patches, but now the Texas-Ex who once caught flack from fans is ready to catch the passes of opposing quarterbacks.