Miami Dolphins coaches have been frustrated about Jordan Phillips since last season. And that has continued during the current 2017 training camp.
Coaches have spoken both in private and quite open terms (Vance Joseph) about how Phillips can be much better if only he would try harder and played more consistently. Going public with the critique has been a way to motivate Phillips.
It didn’t work.
So this offseason the Dolphins tried to replace Phillips. They tried to lure Dontari Poe to sign as a free agent. They hosted other defensive tackles. They tried to convince Johnathan Hankins to take a visit. All of it was, in part, to replace Phillips and also to send the player a message.
But those efforts didn’t work.
Then the team late in the offseason brought in unrestricted defensive tackle Roy Miller for a workout. Miller, recovering from an Achilles injury, wasn’t really ready and so he wasn’t signed. But that didn’t matter because the Dolphins wanted Phillips to understand the following:
Dude, you’ve hung a bulls-eye on yourself and if you don’t shape up, we’re going to ship you out!
Oh, did I mention the Dolphins also drafted two defensive tackles?
So did Phillips, who vowed this offseason to become "headstrong," whatever that means, get the message?
Did he respond when training camp opened?
Phillips this training camp has been OK. But has he lived up to his potential? Has he carried outstanding work on one practice repetition into the next repetition and the next and the next? And then into the next practice?
He’s been a slightly more experienced version of the same disappointing guy. And that is why he is now locked in a battle for his starting job. And that is amazing because there should be no legitimate competition between Phillips, a former second-round draft pick who is going into his third season, and Davon Godchaux, a rookie selected in the fifth round of the April draft.
And yet, here we are... witnessing a competition.
“Honestly, they were even coming into training camp and the offseason,” defensive line coach Terrell Williams said. “We told our guys that you don’t inherit positions here. If you played a lot last year, if you started last year, it doesn’t really matter. Guys have to go out and compete. Jordan understands that, and he’s going out and competing.
“It’s a day-to-day thing. The good thing about having good depth is that it equals leverage, so if a guy comes out and doesn’t do his job, then you just put the next guy in there.”
And this is where we note that for nearly a week recently, it was Godchaux working with the starters. And Phillips working with the reserves.
For multiple days it was Godchaux earning first-team snaps ahead of Phillips.
Now, coaches tried to smooth over that obvious statement of disapproval for Phillips with talk of “moving guys around” as an experiment. But I note there was no such experimentation with other defensive line vets.
Ndamukong Suh is a starter.
Cameron Wake is a starter.
Andre Branch is a starter.
Jordan Phillips, meanwhile, is competing for his starting job.
So was this more message-sending to Phillips by coaches? Or was Godchaux performing better?
It’s probably a little bit of both. Godchaux is very, very, very strong. Country strong. And he can be naturally violent against guards on early downs. And that’s exactly what the Dolphins ask their defensive tackles to do -- push the guards back be it run or pass.
And that brings us to Thursday night: The Dolphins open their 2017 preseason at Hard Rock Stadium with a game against the defending NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons.
And normally in the first preseason game, starters play perhaps a series and then let the younger players take over. But don’t be surprised if that doesn’t apply to Phillips.
Don’t be surprised if ...
1. Godchaux starts ahead of Phillips. Or ...
2. If Phillips starts, he doesn’t get the veteran courtesy treatment of getting out early.
I expect both will play a good amount -- but for different reasons.
For Godchaux it would be a reward. For Phillips it would definitely not be a reward.