S Jermaine Phillips is becoming increasingly known for his big hits in the secondary
It's been eight long months since Tampa Bay Buccaneers strong safety Jermaine Phillips has hit somebody. Really hit somebody.
Sure there was training camp, but while that was physically demanding, Phillips was still constrained by Head Coach Jon Gruden's "practice etiquette" – a concept that emphasizes explosive full-speed execution but limited collisions with one's own teammates. Then there was the preseason, but limited playing time and an evaluation-heavy agenda just didn't equal regular-season intensity.
That all changes Sunday when the Buccaneers open their 2006 season with the Baltimore Ravens.
"I've been thinking since camp, 'Man, I'm just ready to play; I'm just ready to hit somebody,'" Phillips said. "We just went through our preseason, but I didn't have a chance to really have any contact. But I'm ready, man. It's going to be good just to come out to Raymond James Stadium and see all the fans.
"I definitely think that we're going to be ready to roll, especially on the back-end – Will [Allen] and I, ''Thunder and lightning,' as we've been nicknamed. We're going to be ready to bring some scattered showers and thunderstorms. It's going to be good."
Phillips should have his chance for plenty of contact against the Ravens in what looks to be a very physical game. He and the Buccaneer defense – last year's number-one ranked unit – will be pitted against a revamped Ravens offense that features several power running backs, a mobile and physical quarterback in Steve McNair and one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the league, Todd Heap.
"This will be a good challenge for us," Phillips said. "We're looking forward to it. We think we're the number-one defense, and we look forward to that and we like that challenge. We want to face the best offense out there.
"You know Baltimore, they haven't changed much since 2000. They're still a team that wants to run between the tackles. They've got Jamal Lewis, they've acquired Mike Anderson from Denver and they've got Musa Smith. They've got some quality running backs and they've added McNair to the mix to throw a couple of loopholes into the game. He and [Derrick] Mason hooked up a lot in Tennessee, so it's going to be good. They're still the same Baltimore team but with a little more flair this year."
Subduing that flair is where the hard-hitting Phillips comes in. Last season he started 13 games and made 85 tackles, many of them of the bone-jarring variety. His ultra-aggressive play often results in violent collisions over the middle of the field as well as at the line of scrimmage where he provides run support. It's a style he said he perfected under the tutelage of former Buccaneers safety John Lynch and from studying past greats such as Ronnie Lott and Jack Tatum.
Phillips is eager to end his offseason of peace and tranquility and do what comes naturally – punish the misfortunate ballcarriers who enter his zone. Come Sunday, he'll be patrolling the field, looking for that first big hit.
"It's going to be nice," Phillips said of landing his first big hit of the season. "The thing I've got to do is just not think about it and just let it come naturally because you know me – I love looking for the big hit. But I'll let it come, and it's going to be exciting. I think the fans should look forward to a great game."
A man sure to be on Phillips' radar is the 6-5, 252-pound Heap, a physical tight end who caught 75 passes for 855 yards and seven touchdowns last season. With cornerbacks Ronder Barber and Brian Kelly so adept at shutting down wide receivers, it's likely McNair will attempt to expose the Buccaneers' defense by exploiting the seam with his big tight end. Phillips is determined to keep that from happening.
"Todd Heap, he's a great receiver," Phillips said. "He's a good-receiving tight end. He's probably one of the best in the AFC besides [Tony] Gonzalez as far as receptions go. It's a matter of studying him, doing what we want to do and shutting him down.
"It's going to be good to play in front of the home crowd. We always say that nobody comes into our house, our home and takes over. This is our turf, our territory and we're going to protect that at all costs."