S Jermaine Phillips practices and prepares the same way every season, anticipating an opportunity around the next corner
Jermaine Phillips and Dwight Smith, the two players slated to start at safety for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this fall, may form the most athletic duo the team has ever had at the back of its defense. Still, between the two of them they possess exactly 18 regular-season starts at safety.
That's not as bad as it sounds, of course. Smith would have started the entire 2003 season at free safety if a rash of secondary injuries hadn't forced the team to utilize him at four different spots. Phillips played extensively as a sophomore and the two were together in the secondary for the final four games of 2003.
Both Smith and Phillips are fast, instinctive defenders who are expected to be big-play makers, the kind of safeties who may bring more interceptions to that position than the Bucs have had in the past. Smith, with his Super Bowl heroics at the end of the 2002 season and a full year of starting under his belt, is the more established of the two. Phillips is the newcomer, entering the season as a starter for the first time and, to throw on some added pressure, taking over for the departed John Lynch at strong safety.
The Bucs hope these two young players can grow together into one of the league's top safety tandems. Phillips believes that he and Smith can help each other achieve that goal. In a recent interview with Buccaneers.com, Phillips discussed his relationship with Smith and how the two are working together. Phillips touched on that topic because a Buccaneer fan asked him to do so.
Last week, Phillips sat down for his first "Your Turn" interview. As is the case with every interview in this series, all of the questions posed to Phillips were sent in by fans using Buccaneers.com. In other words, this is what you wanted to know from Phillips, in your own words.
Last week, the first half of Phillips' Your Turn interview was posted on Buccaneers.com. Click here to read the full transcript of that interview, in which he discusses, among other things, taking over as a starter for the departed John Lynch.
Below is a transcript of the second half of Phillips' interview. You can also watch a video recording of either portion of the interview in the Buccaneers.com Video Archive or on the home page in the Buccaneers Broadcast Network.
Your Turn with Jermaine Phillips, Part II
1. Mike Walter, Savannah, Georgia: With John Lynch and Warren Sapp gone, do you think that you will be stepping up as a team leader on defense?
Phillips: "I think I'm just going to go out there and practice 100 percent, just control what I can control. I know we happen to have great leaders in Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly, Booger McFarland, and we still have Derrick Brooks, all on defense, who have been here awhile and are great leaders. I just want to sit and follow them."
2. Marshall, Salt Lake City, Utah: Could you explain the differences between playing free safety and strong safety, and at which position are you more comfortable?
Phillips: "Well, in our defense, they're so interchangeable. They're really the same. The strong safety's on the tight end side, usually, and the free safety's on the open side, but both of us play in the box, both of us (play) in the hole and occasionally both of us are in man-to-man coverage. In this scheme, in this defense, there's really no difference and I like to play either one of them. Whichever one gets me on the field."
3. Rob Elkington, Toronto, Canada: I read that you came into camp this year in the best shape of your life. How was this year's offseason different for you, apart from preparing for a starting role?
Phillips: "This offseason is really no different. Every year I prepare to be a starter. As Coach Mike Tomlin says, you're one play away. You never know when the opportunity's going to come, so when it comes, it's your time to shine and you've got to be ready. Every year I prepare to become a starter, and that's the way I've been working out this offseason."
Moderator: "And you experienced that last year, didn't you?"
Phillips: "Yes, exactly."
4. Nathan Balitz, St. Pete Beach, Florida: How are you preparing to help contain some of the league's strongest runners, like Stephen Davis, Deuce McAllister and T.J. Duckett?
Phillips: "Just follow my rules on defense, fill the gaps I need to fill. Everybody else doing the same thing and I think we'll be that defense that was number-one against the run a couple years ago."
5. Billy Barker, Lecanto, Florida: Now that now a year has gone by since the Bucs were in the Super Bowl, do you think the team is back on track?
Phillips: "I think we're back on track. I think we're ready to go. As you know, football is a game of inches. I mean, who would have thought we'd have lost to Indianapolis with five games left, up 21? We had the Panthers 9-9 and we need an extra point, the easiest point. It's the most important point, to win the game, and we get that blocked. There were a lot of things that happened that didn't go our way, that went our way the Super Bowl year. So we're just back working hard and trying to get that edge."
6. Vincent Curtaz, Richmond, California: Have you set any personal goals for the upcoming season?
Phillips: "No, I haven't. Right now, I'm just working on my training, just trying to continue to get in the best shape and continue to be in the best shape of my life, and prepare that way. I think I'll make some personal goals when we're about to come around to training camp."
7. D.J. June, Sarasota, Florida: Out of all of the new Buc players - free agents and rookies - who do you see as being most ready to make an immediate impact this season?
Phillips: "In free agency, it looks like we went out and got an offensive line, so I think they're going to play a big part. We drafted (WR Michael) Clayton from LSU. He's a heck of special teams player, as is he a wide receiver, and I think he's going to play a big part this year. You never know what's going to happen. You never knew. I think we have a lot of good players who are going to play a big part this year."
8. Matt R., Memphis, Tennessee: Since Dwight Smith bounced around a lot last year due to injuries, he's still fairly new to a starting safety job as well. What do you think of Dwight Smith as a player and your partner at safety?
Phillips: "Oh man, I love having him as my partner. He's a great guy. He's a ball hawk too, a lot of speed, strong. He's a great athlete. We talk a lot. We'll be in there in the sauna just talking about defensive strategies and different things, how we can make each other better and what we need to work on. It's great to have him as my sidekick, I guess."
9. Steve, Phoenix, Arizona: The Bucs drafted Will Allen in the fourth round. Do you see him as competition for your job and what do you know of him as a player?
Phillips: "I don't really know much about him as a player. I think he played one year at safety. I guess he's a good player or we wouldn't have drafted him. I don't really look at it as competition. I just go out there and control what I can control. I can't worry about everybody else. If I worry about everybody else then I'm going to drive myself crazy. So I just go out there and control what I can control and let the chips fall where they may."
10. Mike Bridgman, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada: What is the biggest piece of adversity you've had to overcome in your life and career?
Phillips: "The biggest piece of adversity? I guess coming out of high school I didn't have the SAT scores. I had the GPA but I didn't have the SAT scores. Georgia took a chance on me and brought me in as their first special qualifier ever. I had to graduate in four years to get my fourth year of eligibility. What I mean by that is that, my first year, it was like I played, but I couldn't touch the field. I could practice but I couldn't play on the field. So when I went into my next year, I was already a sophomore. So, until I graduated, I couldn't get that year back. So I had to graduate to get that year back, and I think that's one of the biggest things that I had to overcome."