The education of Jordan Phillips began in earnest Friday.
He had a private tutor: Dolphins defensive line coach Terrell Williams.
Phillips, the defensive tackle whose production didn’t match his incredible ability at the University of Oklahoma, was one of some 50 players to participate in Dolphins rookie camp Friday morning.
And though some 80 percent of those aspiring pros will be long gone when the season opens in Washington on Sept. 13, Phillips has no such worries. As a second-round pick, he’ll be on the team.
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How much he’ll actually play, however, will depend solely on him.
“My work ethic,” Phillips said. “[I need to] learn how to work. Having a motor like [Cameron] Wake, like [Ndamukong] Suh. That’s what I really want to do. You’ve got to learn what they do, see their routine, try to take after them. Coming from Oklahoma, and seeing how actual professionals work is going to be something new for me.”
Williams gave him a crash course Friday. Phillips worked on a blocking sled during much of practice with Williams’ undivided attention, a sign that if the young defender can’t light a fire beneath himself in the NFL, the Dolphins will do it for him.
There’s a reason the Dolphins will place such a high priority on his development. Phillips can do things athletically that no 6-foot-5, 329-pound human being should be able to do. Most specifically: a standing backflip.
If Phillips figures it out on the field, Joe Philbin might do a flip himself. The Dolphins passed on other needs to take Phillips with the 52nd overall pick, not because of what he has done, but what they believe he is capable of doing.
“Not unlike any other player that’s either been in the National Football League for a long time or just starting on their journey, he needs some work, he has some things he has to do better,” Philbin said Friday. “... In an ideal world, you’re going to keep people fresh on the defensive line. I wouldn’t rule anything out. It’s Day 1. He’s a guy that’s got to learn the system, learn the fundamentals, produce when he’s given opportunities to in preseason games. He’ll dictate more than me once we get a look at it.”
The good news: It will be years before Phillips is asked to be the best player at his position. That responsibility falls on Suh, who signed an eye-popping free-agent contract with the Dolphins in March.
And though Phillips will surely play some alongside Suh this fall, a more likely role for him this year is to spell his high-profile teammate in certain running situations to help keep Suh fresh. Phillips on Friday called Miami “the perfect situation.”
But first, Phillips needs to relearn his position. After working as a 4-3 defensive tackle early in his career at Oklahoma, he played 3-4 nose tackle this past fall. Phillips believes he was out of position, and his statistics suggest he’s right.
He had just 39 tackles ‒ including only seven for loss ‒ as a redshirt sophomore. A back injury derailed his 2013 season, and as a result, he appeared in just 28 collegiate games. He had two years of eligibility left when he declared for the draft. And yet, Phillips not only expected to go in the first round last week, but was upset when he did not.
“It didn’t happen, so it’s motivation,” Phillips said. “Showing the other 31 teams that didn’t pick me what they missed out on.”
Still, he acknowledges that he deserves much of the blame for his slide. He called his lackluster effort in college “a problem.”
“I didn’t do what I needed to do to be a first-round pick,” Phillips added. “That’s OK. It doesn’t matter how you got here. It matters what you do when you are here.”
And it’s up to Williams, who replaces longtime Dolphins defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers, to make sure Phillips does plenty. The South Florida heat was a shock on Day 1, but Phillips still insists he “came out and worked hard” on Friday.
The key, of course, is not to work hard once in a while. It’s to do so every play.
And as for the chatter that he’s a monster truck with a moped’s motor ‒ does it bother Phillips?
“Not at all,” he responded. “It’s just motivation. It’s something I have to deal with. Obviously, I did something to make people believe that, so I have to change it.”