(Note: This continues a series in Daily Dolphin spotlighting members of the team individually. In addition to reliving highlights and lowlights of the past season for each, we’ll provide analysis and criticism, plus take a look at how each player fits — or doesn’t fit — into the team’s plans for 2018.)
DT Jordan Phillips
Height, weight: 6-6, 341
Age: Will turn 26 early this season
Experience: Fourth NFL season, all with Dolphins
Acquired: Drafted in second round in 2015
Contract: Due to earn $1.3 million in final year of rookie contract; unrestricted free agent after this season
Pro Football Focus rank: 74th out of 122
Stats: Started 11 of 13 games played; had 16 tackles, two sacks and three passes defensed
Notable moments: Had two tackles, one sack and one pass defensed vs. Broncos
Straight talk: Phillips says he wants to be a great player.
He says he wants to be elite.
Let’s look at the numbers and see if they’re trending in that direction, shall we?
We’ll begin by looking at the three interior linemen on the AFC Pro Bowl roster last year. Because if you want to be elite, you should compare yourself to them.
Geno Atkins of the Bengals had 46 tackles and nine sacks.
Jurrell Casey of the Titans had 41 tackles, six sacks and a forced fumble.
Malik Jackson of the Jaguars had 40 tackles, eight sacks, three passes defensed and four forced fumbles.
Reminder from above: Phillips had 16 tackles (a career low), two sacks and three passes defensed.
“I felt like I accomplished what I was trying to do,” Phillips said. “I had a better year, still wasn’t where I wanted it to be, but showed improvement and that’s all you can ask for.”
Is it, really?
Maybe that average of 1.2 tackles per game seems low. Actually, for Phillips, it’s exactly that: average. In 44 career games, he has made 58 tackles, or 1.3 per game. He has never forced nor recovered a fumble. He has never made more than four tackles in a game.
This, while playing next to Ndamukong Suh, who allegedly was attracting the attention of offensive coordinators.
While we’re on the subject of numbers, let’s go back one year. Curiously, coach Adam Gase didn’t want to get into the subject of Phillips’ weight at the time, but Phillips did. He said he was trying to get down to 320 pounds after playing the 2017 season at 336.
His weight last spring: 335.
Phillips’ weight this spring: 341. (Perhaps the Dolphins decided that dropping weight wasn’t in his best interest. Perhaps they didn’t.)
At least last offseason, Phillips admitted he’d shown a “hot and cold motor” to that point. He recognized the need to be consistent. Coaches seemed to figure out which buttons to push with him and often pointed to his physical gifts and the gut feeling he was turning the corner. Gase said Phillips can be unblockable at times.
Such optimism wasn’t unfounded. Last season, Phillips had two good performances against the Patriots and one against the Broncos. He had an 8-yard sack of Tampa Bay’s Ryan Fitzpatrick that should have given the Dolphins a safety (the NFL later admitted the officials goofed).
But you know the rest. Too often, Phillips hasn’t been as visible and has displayed a curious attitude, such as saying “go ask the coaches” why he was relegated to backup duty last preseason, as if he were clueless and powerless about it. This offseason, when asked if he expected to see more snaps now that Suh is gone, he said, “I couldn’t tell you,” Phillips said. “I mean if that’s the message you guys got, then roll with it, I guess.”
Prospects for 2018
There are reasons to think there’s a good chance Phillips will start alongside Davon Godchaux at defensive tackle. A contract year is one. The flashes he showed late last season are others.
But Phillips will have to earn it, and if coaches sense his motor is running cold, they have options. Akeem Spence saw ample first-team duty in the spring. He started 11 games for the Lions last season. And he had better numbers: 39 tackles, three and one forced fumble.
This will be a position to watch this preseason.
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