Phillips May be Miami's Best Chance to Continue First-Round Streak
INDIANAPOLIS - He achieved plenty of goals at the college level, if not all. Now, Kenny Phillips has at least one more:
Continue the streak.
Phillips, a safety from the University of Miami, is widely considered the top player in what is generally thought to be a weak year at his position in the NFL Draft. He is projected anywhere from the middle of the first round to sometime early in the second.
If he indeed goes in the first, it will be the 14th consecutive season a Hurricanes player has been selected in the first round. And to Phillips, that is more than a blip in his thinking as the draft approaches.
To Phillips, the streak matters. Not a little.
"I don't want to be the one who messes up the tradition," Phillips said at the NFL Scouting Combine at the RCA Dome in downtown Indianapolis in late February.
"Nobody wants to be the one who messes it up."
Phillips, a three-year starter at Miami, was named All-Atlantic Coast Conference each of the past two seasons, and declared his eligibility for the draft after his junior season. He did so, he said, after talking with Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed, a former first-round draft choice from the Hurricanes.
"He just told me make sure it's the right decision for you," Phillips said. "Don't do it just because of the money situation or anything like that. Just make sure that you feel in your heart it's the right decision.''
Phillips said he has received similar advice about different aspects of his career from Reed, as well as former UM safety Brandon Meriweather. He played two seasons alongside Meriweather, a first-round selection by the New England Patriots last April.
"When I first came in he was the one that taught me the plays," Phillips said. "He let me stay with him in the summer, so I didn't have to go back and forth. He really took me under his wing and taught me everything I know. I talk to him every week."
That sort of connection between current players and former, Phillips said, is a huge reason the Hurricanes' first-round selections consistently have productive NFL careers. During Miami's streak – which is the longest in the history of the draft by seven years – first-round Hurricanes have included perennial Pro Bowl selections such as Ray Lewis, Reggie Wayne, Reed, Sean Taylor and Warren Sapp.
"It's a big advantage," Phillips said. "They pretty much prepare us for what we should expect when we get into the league. They help us so much that when we get into the league we're very successful.
"It's a love. We're a family. As soon as I got there Ed Reed wasted no time coming to talk to me, sharing tips with me because he wanted to see me succeed. He wanted to see me be successful. That's the brotherhood we have at the University of Miami.''
Philips said Reed and Meriweather also taught him the imance of off-field preparation. "I spend so much time in the film room," he said. "I got that trick from Ed Reed. When I first got there me and him talked a whole lot and he told me to stay in the film room. Actually, him and Brandon have taught me how to watch film. I spend probably three, four hours a day [watching film]."
Three safeties from Miami have been selected in the first round this decade – Taylor, Reed and Meriweather, with Taylor and Reed each developing quickly into perennial Pro Bowl selections. Taylor died this past season and was named to his second Pro Bowl posthumously.
"I never got a chance to meet him," Phillips said. "He was definitely the guy I looked up to, and modeled my game after him. I definitely wanted to get a chance to meet him and it's sad I never got that chance.''
Phillips, an All-ACC Freshman selection in 2005, started 43 games over three seasons, intercepting four passes as a junior in 2006 and two this past season, when he also had 6.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbled and five passes broken up.
"I felt like I had accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish in college," Phillips said. "I sat down with my coaches and family and they felt like I was mentally ready to take it to the next level.
"I wanted to lead my team in interceptions one year. I did that one year. I wanted to be an All-American, I did that one year. I wanted to win a national championship, but that didn't happen. Sometimes it's like that.''
Making Phillips particularly attractive to NFL teams, many analysts believe, is his ability in coverage. With more teams emphasizing three wide receiver sets, more defenses want safeties who can cover one-on-one.
"You have a lot of guys . . . I don't want to say can't cover, but they can't cover," Phillips said, laughing. "They are asking a lot out of safeties. They want you to support the run and also be able to cover a tight end and a slot receiver, so they definitely put a premium on it.
"I can do everything. I can cover pretty good. I'm physical. I'm a sure tackler. I can play special teams. I'm pretty much the complete package.''
Breaking Down the Top Safeties
In a year in which few safeties are expected to be selected early, an exception could be Kenny Phillips from the University of Miami. An early-entry junior, he is projected by many analysts and observers as a first- or second-round selection. Reggie Smith of Oklahoma also is an early-entry junior who converted from cornerback. Some observers have DaJuan Morgan of North Carolina State as the draft's second-rated safety behind Phillips, with Tyrell Johnson of Arkansas State also considered by some a possibility to be taken as early as the second round.
Safeties on the Colts' Roster
Bob Sanders, fifth NFL season; Antoine Bethea, third NFL season; Matt Giordano, fourth NFL season; Melvin Bullitt, second NFL season; Brannon Condren, second NFL season; Keiwan Ratliff, fifth NFL season.
A look at the safeties in the 2008 NFL Draft. Rankings and projected rounds are based on several national draft publications and in no way reflect the opinions of Colts personnel.
Rank, Player, Ht., Wt., School, Projected Round
1, Kenny Phillips, 6-2, 212, Miami (Fl)*, 1
2, Reggie Smith, 6-1, 199, Oklahoma*, 2-3
3, DaJuan Morgan, 6-0, 205, North Carolina State, 2-3
4, Marcus Griffin, 5-10, 201, Texas, 3-4
5, Tom Zbikowski, 5-11, 211, Notre Dame, 3-4
6, Craig Steltz, 6-1, 213, LSU, 3-4
7, Thomas DeCoud, 6-1, 207, California, 3-4
8, Josh Barrett, 6-2, 223, Arizona State, 3-4
9, Tyrell Johnson, 6-0, 207, Arkansas State, 4-5
10, Jonathan Hefney, 5-8, 190, Tennessee, 4-5
11, Quintin Demps, 6-0, 206, UTEP, 4-5
12, Jamie Silva, 5-11, 202, Boston College, 5-6
13, Simeon Castille, 6-0, 195, Alabama, 5-6
14, Jamar Adams 6-2, 212, Michigan, 5-6
15, David Roach, 6-0, 210, Texas Christian, 6-7
16, D.J. Parker, 5-11, 192, Virginia Tech, 6-7
17, Nehemiah Warrick, 6-1, 211, Michigan State, 6-7
18, Dominique Barber, 6-0, 210, Minnesota, 6-7
19, Chris Horton, 6-0, 212, UCLA, 6-7
20, Tony Joiner, 5-11, 215, Florida, 6-7