Miami Dolphins

Air Jordan: Dolphins DT Phillips having block party in rookie season

Rookie Jordan Phillips is tied with Ndamukong Suh for the lead among defensive linemen in passes deflected and second on the team despite a fraction of Suh’s playing time.
Rookie Jordan Phillips is tied with Ndamukong Suh for the lead among defensive linemen in passes deflected and second on the team despite a fraction of Suh’s playing time. AP

The 330 pounds that gives Dolphins rookie Jordan Phillips the bulk to play defensive tackle fills out a 6-6 frame. Phillips was born and raised in Kansas, where you say “fog” and the locals think “Phog Allen, Hall of Fame basketball coach” and, asked to find The Big Dipper, they might point to a picture of Wilt Chamberlain.

So it’s no surprise Phillips played more than a little basketball — “year round from fourth grade all the way up to my senior year of high school.” And he says he blocked a number of shots, something that should come as no surprise to NFL quarterbacks but might to NFL scouts.

Phillips’ past three games have seen him block or deflect four passes and alter a few others. He’s tied with defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh for the lead among defensive linemen in passes deflected and second on the team despite a fraction of Suh’s playing time.

Last Sunday’s deathly dull defensive struggle with Baltimore came to life after a Phillips deflection turned into safety Reshad Jones’ interception that turned into a 7-0 Dolphins lead one play later. That started the explosion of 18 points from both teams in the last three minutes of the half.

“That’s just what we’re taught — when we rush, put our hands up,” Phillips said. “Any way you can alter a play is a good feeling.”

What’s strange is the past three games have seen Phillips block more passes than he did in three years at Oklahoma. Just in the first of those three games, the loss to Dallas, Phillips equaled his college total by getting his hands on two passes.

“There is a knack for that because if it was easy everyone would just rush the passer, put their hands up and knock the ball down. But he’s kind of got some instincts when it comes to that,” Dolphins defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said the day after the Dallas game. “He’s getting close to the quarterback and when the ball is about to come out he’s getting that big hand up there. Fortunately for us he’s getting better at it, which is great because, again, it’s one less pass that you have to defend. In this league those are potential big plays.”

Anarumo said that almost a fortnight before the second-round 2015 pick’s first start, Sunday against Baltimore. Injuries to Earl Mitchell and C.J. Mosely opened time and space for Phillips, who played the most snaps he has this season.

He got credit for four tackles, among which was the fourth-and-1 quarterback sneak stop that ended a 15-play Ravens drive on the Dolphins’ 2-yard line.

“He got excellent penetration and stood the center and the guard up that allowed everybody to get in on the play,” Dolphins interim coach Dan Campbell said. “I mean Suh was involved in that as well, but that was encouraging for him to do. … And he made some nice plays in the run game too.”

Campbell was asked if Phillips showed enough to start the final four games after getting his most snaps of the season.

“I don’t see why not,” Campbell replied. “Now, he’s got to continue to produce in that role. You know. Earl will come back and we all know what Earl is when he’s healthy. I mean he gets in there, nobody gives more effort than Earl does and he can be disruptive as well. So I would say it’s a good problem to have, and certainly having Earl back will give us a nice rotation. At the least you get a good three man rotation in there between Suh, Phillips, and Earl.”

Phillips said though his season has been harder than he anticipated, “I wouldn’t change anything.”

“It’s a process and you can’t just come in and be That Man. It’s really humbling,” he said. “The mental aspect. And the working in general. Every day you’ve got to come in with the right mindset or you’re going to get left behind.”

There’s not much brash about Phillips, rather a Midwestern matter-of-fact quality. But he does have confidence in his athleticism.

When teammate Derrick Shelby’s blocked pass-21-yard interception return touchdown was mentioned, Phillips said he’d want a longer return, not shorter (like most 330-pound defensive tackles would prefer).

“I’d rather show my speed. If I got a nice 60 yards, something like that, I’d be OK with that.”

And would he need oxygen afterward?

“I’d just lay down in the end zone.”

▪ The Dolphins waived injured defensive end Robert Thomas III (dislocated elbow) and waived safety Jordan Kovacs. This made room for the team to re-sign tight end Brandon Williams.

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal

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