Andre Branch, speaking on Orlando Alzugaray’s show on WQAM-560AM on Thursday, reported that something’s cooking in Oregon these days that could have a major impact on the Dolphins’ defense in 2016.
Branch said fellow defensive lineman Jordan Phillips has been working out in Portland with Ndamukong Suh.
“You’ll see a totally different guy,” Branch said, words well-received by Dolphins fans since Phillips is a potential starter at tackle.
And it is good news.
It’s also old news.
Phillips was a surprise second-round pick out of Oklahoma — a surprise that he lasted that long, if you’re basing it solely on ability. And a surprise the Dolphins went for a DT that high, considering they’d just signed Suh to the fattest free-agent contract in their history.
But it was during that summer before Phillips’ rookie season that he also headed to the Northwest, spending three weeks training under Suh.
It’s unclear whether they had the same arrangement last summer.
What is clear is there has been a disconnect between Phillips’ potential and Phillips’ production. That was the rap against him with the Sooners, and a rap he did not deny. As he settled in with the Dolphins, he was asked where he needed to improve.
“My work ethic,” he said. “I need just to learn how to work, having a motor like (Cam) Wake, like Suh. That’s just what I really want to do. I’ve just got to see their routine, try to take after them. Seeing how an actual professional works is something new for me.”
It was then. It’s not now. And while it’s great he has a mentor in Suh, it’ll soon come time for Phillips to be an example to the younger guys. When the Dolphins let Earl Mitchell bolt to the 49ers via free agency, there went their safety net if Phillips doesn’t produce.
Thus far, Phillips has started 15 of 31 games. He had 19 tackles and two sacks as a rookie. Last year, he started 11 games but managed only four additional tackles and shared one sack. Not bad, but from a second-round pick, you expect more. Former defensive coordinator Vance Joseph did, criticizing Phillips for inconsistency.
Outside of the opener at Seattle, Phillips never made more than two tackles in a game last season. This despite playing alongside his workout partner, the All-Pro drawing all the double-teams.
When he’s on, however, he’s on. There was that blocked extra point that helped beat Arizona. The interception against the Jets in which this 335-pound man hurdled a would-be tackler. Phillips can’t do that every Sunday, but it’s yet to be proved that he can’t do it more Sundays.
Sometime after the last beads of sweat evaporated his rookie summer, Phillips reflected on his experience with Suh.
“Just how hard he works,” Phillips said. “I’ve never seen anybody work the way he does.”
Now he has. And now it’s time to see if Suh’s protege has become what Branch described: somebody we’ve never seen before, either.
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