Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Jordan Phillips is on notice and he talks like someone who knows it.
The team’s coaching staff sent him a message last December when he lost his starting job playing next to Ndamukong Suh. But if that wasn’t clear to the former second-round pick, coaches told him after the season he needed to change course to stay on the team.
Phillips was told his play needed to be more consistent. He was told his habit of taking some plays off would not be tolerated. He was told he needed to become more a student of the game and his opponents. The message was delivered that if he couldn’t solve his issues in 2017, the team would be looking to replace him after the season.
And that’s why Tuesday was amazing.
Phillips admitted he got the message. And he talked about some things he’s doing to address his issues without providing details. He offered an honest assessment of his failings.
But, as with Phillips’ play, there were things missing.
(I’ll get to those in a minute).
“I’ve grown up a lot,” Phillips said in his first conversation with reporters since the end of the 2016 season. “I’m ready for the new opportunity. I’m ready to help the team the way I need to.
“It’s my third year. I’ve been under the wing of Suh for a while as well as the rest of the guys in the room. I know what to do. I know how to get it done. I’m ready for the challenge.”
This is challenge because despite having enviable athletic abilities, Phillips has never put those abilities to maximum use. And never is not an exaggeration.
Phillips underachieved in college at Oklahoma. And he admitted as much when he was drafted in the second round in 2014. Then he underachieved his first two seasons with the Dolphins to the point 2016 defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said the defensive tackle would look as good as anyone for three or four plays and then disappear for half-a-dozen or so plays after that.
Phillips does not deny that’s true. And he says he’s finding “tips and tricks” to help stay focused and keep his motor running during games.
“The hot and cold motor you guys see every once in a while, just tricks to keep it going,” Phillips said. “Getting headstrong. I don’t know how to ... How do I phrase it without going into it?
“Just finding tips and tricks on how to get me going, and stay consistent with that. Just keep my motor going.”
It’s never good when a professional athlete doesn’t compete hard every single play. After all, he gets paid for every single play. So that malady requires a diagnosis.
And Phillips has apparently come to the conclusion the issue is in his head. The issue, he believes, is about getting his mind right.
“It’s gone good. I’m just ready for the challenge,” he said. “I went out to Portland and worked out with Suh. I feel like my mind is better than it has been. That was my main thing, just trying to get headstrong.
Phillips declined to share what tricks and tips he’s employing to play hard every play. Frankly, I had no clue such tricks existed because I’ve always believed passion and urgency and desire are innate.
Either you have them or you don’t.
But Phillips seems confident we’ll see how well his new approach works when the games begin.
“When I’m an All Pro defensive tackle and I make the Pro Bowl,” he said.
Now, stop. Breathe.
Let all this marinate.
Here’s hoping Phillips can find the switch to his passion and flips it on. It would be great for him. It would be great for the Dolphins.
But there are signs now, today, that might not be happening.
Let’s start with Phillips’ weight. It is closely tied to his stamina which has been a hindrance in the past. Phillips said he played at 336 pounds last season and wants to be at 320 pounds this season.
So what’s he weighing now?
Phillips said he’s now around 335.
And that makes me wonder...what is he waiting for to lose the weight?
Look, Phillips himself said he traveled across the entire country to go work out with Suh. And the Dolphins have been in their offseason and conditioning program since April.
So in that time Phillips, wanting to drop weight, has lost one pound?
The 2016 season ended January 8 for the Dolphins. So it has been nearly six months since the season ended. Training camp begins the final week of July, or about two months from now.
Who believes Phillips will lose the weight he wants to lose over the next two months when he didn’t do it over the past six months?
(What can I say, I’m a believer in actions not words).
But words matter, too.
Phillips said he came to this epiphany that he needed to stop taking plays off and study opponents better when he was benched late last year. He was asked if coaches drove the point home by speaking to him about it.
“Not at all,” he said. “Just looking at myself in the mirror and looking at what I have to do and that’s be better. So that’s what I’m going to do.”
Except that coaches did tell him in no uncertain terms his on-again, off-again play had to change this year.
So put me down in the group of skeptics that Phillips can change his stripes in 2017. Talk of tricks and tips and weight loss that is supposed to happen but hasn’t don’t convince me until they pay dividends on the football field in consistent fashion.
And on this Phillips agrees because I asked him how he knows his tricks work.
“I guess you guys will see when I play,” Phillips said.
One more thing: As you read, Phillips believes his issue has been in his mind. Thus the talk of getting headstrong.
I believe passion and urgency and desire aren’t born in the mind. They’re of the heart. That’s the area I think Phillips should address first before he considers his head.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero