Dallas Cowboys: Reasons Why John Phillips Will Seize His Opportunity
John Phillips had his entire 2010 season snatched away from him during a preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals. The result was a torn ACL, and, up until that moment, Phillips was having a stellar training camp and perhaps on the verge of surpassing Martellus Bennett as the backup to Jason Witten.
Heading into 2011, Phillips, like many players coming off of ACL surgery, had to deal with the initial task of exposing the repaired ligament to contact while overcoming the mental aspects that accompany it. Phillips was able to play in all 16 games last season, but heading into his fourth year in the league, he will have to improve on career statistics that include 22 receptions, 163 yards and one touchdown.
On the surface, looking at his body of work isn't grounds for excitement or fireworks, but Phillips has now assumed the role as the No. 2 tight end in Jason Garrett's offense. His new role will also include integral responsibilities and some lofty expectations.
I'm not suggesting he's a re-incarnation of Witten, but opportunity has come knocking on his front door and failure to seize it can mean an opportunity for someone else. Is he ready to be a weapon in this offense, or will a player like James Hanna realize his opportunity and leapfrog him on the depth chart?
Garrett's offense will continue to be about balance, but the players that prove to be playmakers need to be on the field. So will Phillips seize his opportunity? Is he especially ready in the event Witten is sidelined with an injury?
Not only do the coaches think he's ready, but they also see him as being a vertical and versatile threat in the passing game to go along with his blocking ability. With the departure of Martellus Bennett and with Hanna being the only other logical tight end to make this roster, Phillips has no choice but to be ready for this opportunity.
Physically, he is now two seasons removed from his injury. As someone with similar measurables to Witten, the Cowboys need to utilize him more in the passing game and take advantage of the potential mismatches he can create for opposing defenses.
As a player who has been in Garrett's system for four years and has had the chance to learn from Witten's professionalism, I believe he will make the most of his chances. With the tight end position so prominent in today's NFL, his timing cannot be more perfect.
Developing Phillips' game would allow the Cowboys to run more two-tight end sets, expand the playbook and allow for more big plays from the wide receivers. The same argument can be made for Hanna, but either way, the goal would be to stress opposing defenses and utilize the tight ends in a similar way to the New England Patriots.
For a young player like John Phillips, the most important factor is getting him back to the level he was on the cusp of achieving. Prior to his injury, he was just starting to display his ability to catch the ball regularly. If you couple that with his size and ability to block, Phillips has the making of a solid backup tight end that could make some noise in 2012.
The fact that Phillips sustained an ACL injury and battled back to be in this position does prove his level of determination. The player I saw before the injury was a player that had an arrow pointing upward. He definitely made an impression then, and now, with an opportunity to stake a significant claim in this offense, I believe he can make a lasting impression.
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