A lot has been made of the depth the New York Giants have on defense this season, and potential dominance that awaits. Some even believe that this could be one of the best defenses ever, mentioning the unit in the same breath as the legendary 2000 Ravens and 1985 Bears, respectively. These comparisons are a bit premature, but are probably warranted amidst all the hype as of late.
One player who is poised to ensure his team lays claim to such high prestige, is second-year free safety, Kenny Phillips.
In 2004, Phillips was the top safety prospect coming out of high school and garnered the first of many accolades to come, earning USA Today's Defensive Player of the Year.
As a freshman at the University of Miami, home to elite NFL safeties such as Ed Reed and the late Sean Taylor, Phillips lived up to the university's pedigree. He started 11 games and ranked third on the team with 93 total tackles, two fumble recoveries, four passes broken up, and one interception.
Phillips would go on to produce even more gaudy statistical numbers throughout his four-year tenure with the Hurricanes. When he was drafted 29th overall in the 2008 NFL draft, Phillips continued a remarkable 14 year streak of having a Hurricane be selected in the first-round.
Last season, as a rookie for the New York Giants, Phillips failed to obtain a starting roster spot at either safety position in training camp, which came as a shock to the coaching staff and fans.
It was expected that he would fill the void left by the departing Gibril Wilson almost immediately, but it wouldn't take long for him to prove his worth as a first-round draft choice. Even despite being kept on a tight leash all season as far the opportunities and playing time Phillips would receive, he made the most of his limited spot-duty early on.
As the season progressed, Phillips earned more playing time and was able to capitalize on an injury sustained by fellow teammate and starting safety at the time, James Butler. Phillips didn't relinquish his starting position he received late in the season, even after the return of a healthy Butler.
This year, most media outlets have been predicting that Kenny is due for a coming out party, and that it will come this season. Ralph Vacchiano, a Giants beat writer for the New York Daily News believes Phillips could soon be a Pro Bowler, and I would have to agree.
Phillips was just scratching the surface of his immense potential last season and is comfortable with the playbook coming into his second year in the league. He had a reputation in college for being able to really bring the wood. We haven't seen much of that aside from a massive hit he put on Mewelde Moore of the Steelers last year. It was a game in which Phillips would record his first and only interception of the season.
The sky is truly the limit for Kenny Phillips. He has carried himself in training camp like a professional, remaining humble in interviews but at the same time displaying an infectious swagger about himself that the whole defense now seems to possess.
Look for big things out of "KP" this year and expect him to be a mainstay for Big Blue's defense for a long, long time. The media thinks that the defense could be one of the best in the NFL, and I think the same could be said for Kenny Phillips by season's end.