S Jermaine Phillips usually has a smile on his face during practice
Led by always-animated coach Raheem Morris, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defensive backs are a lively bunch. They clearly work hard on the practice field, but they also seem to have fun in the process.
You've got Ronde Barber, the unflappable veteran. There's Tanard Jackson, the good-natured rising star at safety, and Aqib Talib, the talented rookie eager to stand out.
And then you have safety Jermaine Phillips, a wise-cracking safety who simply loves playing the game.
Phillips plays the game hard, but he plays with a smile on his face. The seventh-year vet can be seen working his tail off one then laughing as he engages in a pushup contest with a teammate moments later. Having fun and working hard – that's just how he approaches the game, especially during the monotony of training camp. It's something that's been ingrained in him since he became a Buccaneer in 2002.
"The mindset that I take is that I'm a rookie," Phillips said. "I look at it like I come in here and it's time for me to fight for a job again and fight for a spot on the roster. I'm in meetings and I take notes just like I did when I was a rookie just to go over things, even if it's things that I know, just to keep me in that habit and keep me in that mind frame. You never know it all. I see Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber and they're doing the same thing. Looking at those guys, I learned from them over the years. So if they're doing it there must be something right with it."
Phillips joined the Bucs in '02 as a fifth-round draft pick and has evolved into the team's starting strong safety. He has opened every one of the 55 games he has played the last four seasons, and after a down year in 2006 by his standards, Phillips came back revitalized last season, posting a team-high four interceptions and making a string of high-impact plays.
"Last year was just great," Phillips said. "I think in 2006 I think I lost a little bit of confidence in my abilities. I think that was the biggest problem. I doubted myself when everybody else wasn't. Last year has taught me that you don't doubt yourself. You're here for a reason and when you can't play anymore, you'll know it. Until then just go out there and play hard and just go off your instincts."
That confidence shows up every day in practice. Phillips works when it's time to work but loves to joke around when given the chance. During one afternoon session under the tent this week, Phillips could be seen battling linebacker Barrett Ruud in a contest in between rotations to see who could do the most pushups and crunches. Phillips still had five pushups left in order to catch up to Ruud when he was called onto the field for a drill, so he plopped down on the rubberized surface in between snaps and finished them off when he could.
Speaking of the tent, it comes as little surprise that Phillips would rather practice outdoors. He did admit the air-conditioned comfort the tent provided had its advantages.
"I'm the type of person that I like hard work, I like to be out on the field, sweat a little bit more, and get the grind going on…but I think [the tent] is definitely beneficial," Phillips said. "As we go through plays and do different things, different blitzes and things of that nature, you get to walk through and see exactly where you are going to be."
Inside or out, training camp practices are only a tune-up for what Phillips and the rest of his teammates are truly waiting for – the beginning of the regular season.
When asked how excited he was to get a chance to play against someone other than his fellow Bucs for a change, there was no joking around from Phillips.
"Man, I have been looking forward to that since we lost to the Giants," Phillips said with a smile. "I have been looking forward to that for a long time. In training camp I don't really get to hit anybody, and the mentality in practice and the mentality in the game are totally different, at least for me. In practice, these are my teammates. I want these guys to make it through the day. But in a game I know I can hit this dude and he can be out for the game and I can be fine with it. It's a totally different mentality."