“This,” T.J. McDonald said Thursday with glee, “is real football right here.”
McDonald, the Dolphins’ veteran safety, was holding court with reporters after the Dolphins’ first padded practice of 2018.
Real football to defensive players is when you can hit.
Safeties can pop running backs.
Linebackers can knock over tight ends.
And defensive linemen have free reign to terrorize their offensive counterparts.
And terrorize, at times, they did. The Dolphins’ richest position group looked like their best Saturday, shoving around an offensive line that was supposed to be much improved.
And in the middle of it all: Jordan Phillips, the fourth-year defensive tackle who is playing like 16-month-old son Malik’s financial future depends on it.
Because it very well might.
Phillips is probably the biggest name of a nameless group of D-tackles looking to replace Ndamukong Suh.
And entering a contract year with no guarantee of a new deal with the Dolphins, Phillips knows the score.
“If I don’t go out there and do what I need to do this year, OK then I’m getting paid minimum,” Phillips said. “I’ve got to do what I need to do to set my family up for life.”
That’s largely in his control. The former second-round pick has flashed at times, but has yet to put together a 16-game season.
“Just continue what I’m doing,” Phillips said, when asked what it would take to get that long-term contract. “I’m working hard, I’m showing the coaches what I can do. I’m not only playing for myself but I’m playing for maybe 31 other teams. I’ve got to put everything I can on film.”
He did in the second half of last season, recording eight of his 17 tackles in the final six weeks. But his impact when beyond the numbers, getting consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
“Nothing. I finally got healthy.”
Phillips dealt with a pretty significant ankle injury early in the season.
But he’s healthy now, and determined to silence his critics once and for all — and his son is his biggest motivation.
“You’re not playing for yourself,” Phillips said. “When you come out here, you don’t want nobody to be able to say anything about your son to you. You’ve got to do what you do to do to keep everybody quiet and keep him happy.”
Phillips has consistently been one of the Dolphins’ starting defensive tackles; Akeem Spence, acquired from Detroit via trade, has been the other.
Spence plays with great energy, Phillips said. That might be exactly what the hot-and-cold Phillips needs to reach his full potential.
And when he’s on the field, Phillips should be fresh. The Dolphins plan to evenly rotate four defensive tackles (at least) during games. The others, presumably, will be Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor, although that has not yet been decided.
“It’s hard to pick just one,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase, when asked to name the defensive tackle who has impressed him the most. “I think each day it seems like a different guy is the guy that’s penetrating and causing problems in the run game and then breaking through the line when it comes to any kind of pass and pass protection. It’s hard to single one guy out. I think you have different body types and you have different skill sets by all four guys; but the one thing that they’ve all four done very consistently is the way they’re getting off the ball, the way that they’re using their hands and the way that they’re striking the offensive lineman.
“It’s been impressive to watch but at the same time, it’s really been tough for an offensive lineman because these guys are getting shot out of a cannon,” Gase added. “This is great work for us on the offensive side to really go against guys that are playing defense the right way.”