WESTFIELD, Ind. — At its core, Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus’ system isn’t too complex.
While players with speed and athleticism are a dime a dozen in the NFL, Eberflus and his coaches covet guys who hustle to the ball, no matter where it is on the field. It may sound simple, but not every defender in the league can keep up with that standard.
This attitude is especially critical along the defensive line, where disrupting the quarterback is priority No. 1. And in Thursday night’s 2019 preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills, Carroll Phillips had no issues doing just that.
The Indianapolis Colts’ defensive end finished with two sacks and a fumble recovery in Indy’s 24-16 loss at New Era Field, and earned praise from head coach Frank Reich for his efforts.
“Carroll Phillips had a nice night,” he said.
Phillips’ first big play of the night came at the 4:51 mark of the first quarter, as Bills starting quarterback Josh Allen, on 2nd and 10 from the Indianapolis 18-yard line, was brought down for a loss of 11 yards for the Colts’ first sack of the night.
Two plays later, Stephen Hauschka’s 34-yard field goal attempt banged off the left upright, keeping the game scoreless.
Next, after the Bills had taken a 7-0 lead midway through the second quarter, Phillips’ hustle paid off again, as he pounced on the football after a snap sailed over backup quarterback Matt Barkley’s head. Phillips recovered the ball at the Buffalo 40-yard line.
But he wasn’t done there. This time, late in the third quarter, Phillips tracked down rookie quarterback Tyree Jackson for a sack and a loss of seven yards.
A modest Phillips called his performance Thursday “pretty good.”
“When they put me out there, I just try to help the team out anyway I can, hustling to the ball, making big plays,” he said. “I just wanted to challenge myself while I was out there and see what I could do, make a few plays and try to help the team out”
The game is a bit of good timing for Phillips, who is trying to force his way into a crowded, and talented, Colts defensive line room heading into the 2019 regular season.
He starred at Illinois under current Colts defensive line coach Mike Phair, earning All-Big Ten honors his senior year in 2016, before signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars as an undrafted free agent the following spring. After being signed to Indy’s practice squad at the start of the regular season, Phillips eventually earned a promotion to the 53-man roster, collecting five total tackles in six games before suffering a season-ending groin injury and being placed on injured reserve.
Now fully healthy, Phillips hopes to continue making the most of his opportunities. And as long as he keeps playing with high energy, he’ll always have a shot.
“Coach ‘Flus (Eberflus) always talks about, ‘Hustle to the ball, hustle to the ball,’ because there’s always going to be a big play out there,” he said. “Once you hustle to the ball, you’re going to make a play, either way you go.”